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Walsh pledges investments in housing, education

Vekonda Lunagphay
Walsh pledges investments in housing, education
Mayor Martin Walsh delivers his state of the city address at Symphony Hall. (Photo: Vekonda Lunagphay)

Mayor Martin Walsh pledged to build on Boston’s strengths with investments in housing and education in his first state of the city address, delivered at Symphony Hall Tuesday.

“Our economy is flourishing, and many more people are working,” Walsh said, addressing a crowd of municipal officials, community leaders and Boston residents at Symphony Hall.

About 2,500 expected attendees gathered at the hall to listen to Walsh share his plans for creating a Boston that can thrive, be healthy and innovative.

Among the many commitments, he emphasized improving the Boston Public Schools and creating more affordable housing opportunities.

Walsh’s goals for improving schools include a new fund for school buildings, universal pre-k education and adding 40 minutes of school time for all students through 8th grade — the latter change to be implemented in the fall.

“In the city with the greatest universities in the world; access to an excellent public school is seen as a lucky break,” Walsh said. “That is just not acceptable.”

Walsh says his administration will create a Boston School Building Authority, a body made up of school and city representatives, and employees of the construction industry, to work on funding capital improvements in Boston’s school buildings. Walsh said the first two schools to undergo renovation or re-building will be the Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway and the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Chinatown, both of which were denied $244 million by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in September to reconstruct their buildings in downtown Boston.

“I want to thank the parent councils at these schools. After enduring years of false starts, their dedication will pay off now, and for generations to come,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s plan for developing more affordable housing includes making 250 city-owned parcels of land available for building homes for low- and middle-income families, and providing $20 million for developing affordable housing.

“Nothing is more important to me than protecting our most vulnerable neighbors, whether the addicted or the homeless, our children or our seniors. I will always move swiftly to keep them safe. But that urgency has to be sustained: through the hard work it takes to turn life around; and build lasting solutions,” Mayor Walsh said.

Walsh also listed some accomplishments. Among them he mentioned that violent and property crime have gone down, and 1,061 guns are off the streets; 25,000 more Bostonians are employed, reflecting the highest job growth since 2007, and lowering the unemployment rate to 5.2 percent.

Walsh says his administration is planning so the goals he outlined can be met by 2030, which by then will be Boston’s 400th birthday.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished; but I’m far from satisfied. We have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Audience members expressed support for Walsh’s plans.

Sherry Dong, director of Community Health Programs at Tufts Medical Center and who once worked in Mayor’s office of Neighborhood Services for Chinatown and the Asian community under the former Mayor Thomas Menino, was glad to hear that the Josiah Quincy School is a part of Mayor Walsh’s plan, but was still concerned.

“I hope that priority includes the school remaining in Chinatown,” she said.

Kevin A. McCluskey, former president of the Boston School Committee in 1983 and a former Dorchester resident, praised the mayor on his plans for improving the Boston Public Schools.

“Any additional time on learning is something that is going to benefit the school children,” McCluskey said about the 40-minute extended school hours. “These are very positive very strong steps forward that the mayor described tonight.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins also expressed support for the extended school day.

“The more they get educated, the less they’ll come to see me at Suffolk’s Country Sheriff’s Department, and that’s the important thing. I rather see kids in school and not in jail,” Tompkins said. “In fact I think that the summer should be shorter. I think kids need to stay in school, because if we’re going to be competitive globally we have to have an educated workforce.”

Dorchester resident Vernell Baker, a veterans advocate, said he was hoping to hear more from the mayor on plans for increasing job opportunities, especially for men with CORI records.

“That’s my main concern. He touches upon everything, except some CORI issues, which is a major barrier for men of color in the city of Boston to be able to get housing, provide for their families,” Baker said. “If we’re really talking about attacking poverty, then the key component is this CORI issue.”