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Boston Mayoral candidates grilled on housing issues at forum

Carlos Solis | 8/14/2013, 11:35 a.m.
The affordable housing activists gathered at the Quincy School last week at a mayoral candidates forum were asked some of ...
Candidates at a mayoral forum sponsored by the Right to the City Boston and the Boston Tenants Coalition sit in alphabetical order: Felix G. Arroyo, John Barros, Charlotte Golar Richie, Mike Ross, Marty Walsh, Bill Walczak and Charles Yancey. Carlos Solis

The affordable housing activists gathered at the Quincy School last week at a mayoral candidates forum were asked some of the most vexing questions facing policy makers involving residential development.

The candidates were asked how they would stop the displacement of low-income residents in newly fashionable neighborhoods; how they would prevent foreclosures and no-fault evictions; and how they would balance luxury developments with affordable housing.

The forum was sponsored by the umbrella groups Right to the City Boston and the Boston Tenant Coalition.

The mayoral candidates who met with the groups — John Barros, Felix Arroyo, Charlotte Golar Richie, Michael Ross, Bill Walczak, Charles Yancey and Marty Walsh — expressed strong support for public housing, tenant protections, the preservation and construction of public housing units and housing for the homeless.

Where they demonstrated their differences was in the experience each said they would bring to bear in tackling these issues as mayor.

City Councilor Arroyo talked about his family coming to Boston from Puerto Rico and living in public housing in the Villa Victoria public housing development and cited his work on the City Council on behalf of affordable housing initiatives.

Richie, a former state representative, talked about her parents work in public housing in New York City, where she grew up, and touted her experience as head of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development.

Barros touted his work as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, which has taken land by eminent domain and held it in trust for the development of affordable housing.

Walsh spoke about the displacement of long-time residents in the Savin Hill neighborhood where he grew up and lives and how it informed his support for affordable housing.

The candidates offered no positions at odds with those espoused by the groups that organized the forum, which included City Life/Vida Urbana, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and the Mass Senior Action Council.

When asked what they would do to end homelessness in Boston, the candidates’ answers varied greatly.

Ross suggested shifting some resources from shelters to actual housing units for homeless people, regardless of whether or not they’re sober, arguing it’s easier for people to receive services when they have a place to stay.

“When you’re homeless, what you need is a home,” he said.

Yancey said he would float a special bond issue to build more housing units for homeless people.

“When I was born there were 800,000 people living in Boston,” he said. “Now we have a little more than 600,000. There’s still room in Boston.”

Arroyo said a third of all housing should be affordable and one third should be moderately affordable.

When asked what they would do to stop banks from evicting tenants after foreclosure, virtually all of the candidates agreed with the coalition’s suggested measure, which include fining banks that don’t mediate, taking city deposits out of Wall Street banks, and using eminent domain to take mortgages and renegotiate them.

Richie cited her eight years as head of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, which launched a “Don’t Borrow Trouble” public awareness campaign to help steer homeowners away from predatory loans. She also said she would use the mayor’s office as a bully pulpit to force banks to do right by homeowners.