Outrage Prevails at Boston Mayoral Candidate Housing Forum

Boston, August 6, 2013, — More than 250 people from across the city filled the Quincy School auditorium in Chinatown as seven candidates of the “New Boston” persuasion courted votes at the Why We Can’t Wait mayoral candidate forum on housing and land issues sponsored by Right to the City VOTE and the Boston Tenant Coalition. Banners and protest signs hung on the stage with slogans like “Remain. Reclaim. Rebuild.” and “Public land for the public good.”

Participating candidates were Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charlotte Golar-Richie, Mike Ross, Bill Walczak, Marty Walsh, and Charles Yancey. City councilor at-large John Connolly stopped by but did not remain for the forum.

Surrounded by victims of foreclosure, gentrification, and eviction, all of the candidates struck a forceful tone. Felix Arroyo opened the comments by remembering that his parents received the break that they needed as newcomers when they found subsidized housing at Villa Victoria. Former head of the Department of Neighborhood Development Charlotte Golar-Richie spoke of her prior accomplishments and told the audience that housing is a human right. Former health care executive and Dorchester activist Bill Walczak emphasized his financial savvy to ensure that basic priorities like housing are adequately resourced in the city budget. Mattapan district city councilor Charles Yancey boasted of his 30 year record of supporting affordable housing, including advocacy for rent control.

“We’re all pro-housing, but some of us have records of what we’ve done,” said state representative Marty Walsh. “As mayor of Boston, I would go down to Washington DC to tell them they need to start funding housing programs.”

Mission Hill district city councilor Mike Ross spoke supportively to homeless activist Blanca Gomez. “We spend 80 percent of the budget on the 10 percent of the chronically homeless, relying on the shelter system, when in fact, when you are homeless, what you need is a home.”

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative executive director John Barros emphasized both new policy solutions and the decision-making process. “You don’t want a mayor who is going to make those decision for you,” he said to the crowd. “You want a mayor that’s going to institutionalize a participatory process. We will decentralize planning into the neighborhoods, so that all community benefits are negotiated by residents. And those resources shouldn’t be held by the city, they should be held by the neighborhoods. At DSNI, that’s what we did. As your mayor, we would disseminate that power to the neighborhoods. This is a no-brainer, and this is what I’ve done.

When discussion turned to challenging banks and corporate investors, Arroyo turned to City Life activists and said, “I have there on those blockades before I was on the city council and while I was on the council. I was with you at the court house. I support moving money from the banks, because I wrote that bill! That’s Invest in Boston, and I wrote that with you, and I’m going to pass that with you.”

Candidates echoed the themes and ideas expressed by community members who posed the questions: a formerly homeless woman, an elderly activist, a Spanish-speaking resident of East Boston, homeowners who are facing foreclosure, and a Chinese immigrant concerned about stabilizing Chinatown.

Forum co-sponsors: Right to the City Boston, Boston Tenant Coalition, Right to the City VOTE, Progressive Massachusetts, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston Workers Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life Vida Urbana, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, New England United for Justice, Project HIP HOP, Homes for Families, Fenway Community Development Corporation, Rosie’s Place, Chinatown Resident Association, Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, MassVOTE, Mass Senior Action Council, and Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless