My message to the business community: Our economy depends on a strong middle class

October 9, 2019 News

On Tuesday, I gave my annual speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. It’s a tradition going back many years for the mayor to address the business community.

It’s an opportunity to report on our city’s progress, and there’s a lot to celebrate with unemployment below 3% and historic city investments going forward in our schools, libraries, and parks.

But as I thought about what to say, I wasn’t focused on those numbers. I was thinking instead about the people I talk to in Boston’s neighborhoods who, whatever the numbers say, are facing real challenges.

I was thinking about a city worker I talked to recently, who is eight years into a good career and just got married. This couple is thinking about starting a family, but they don’t see how they’ll ever be able to afford a home in our city.

I was thinking about people who call my office after receiving eviction notices or rent increases, upset that they’re being pushed out of their homes, sometimes the only homes they’ve ever known.

I was thinking about a mother from Mattapan who has to ride multiple buses to get to her job in Longwood Medical Area, sitting in traffic for over an hour each way.

And I was thinking about the parents who decide their family’s future based on what high school their kids get access to.

These aren’t marginal examples. These are the people at the heart and soul of our economy and our community. They are from all races, in every neighborhood. They’re working in City Hall and in every workplace of our city. They are our middle class and the people fighting to be in our middle class.

I told the business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce that meeting these residents’ challenges is my agenda. And I told them it has to be their agenda as well — because a city that can’t house its workforce is a city where employers lose talent; a state that can’t get transportation right is a state with an expiration date on its economic leadership; and a country losing its middle class is a country that’s losing its soul.

So I gave them a call to action — to help address the biggest challenges facing our middle class.

On housing, we’ve made historic progress. We have created over 31,000 new homes in our city and we are ahead of pace to meet our goal of 69,000 new homes by 2030. 20% of those new homes are subsidized units. We are the number one city in the United States for income-restricted, affordable housing. So our strategy is working: rents have stabilized in some neighborhoods and we’re on the way to creating 1,000 new homeowners.

But we have much more work to do.

Working people are still being squeezed by high prices and rents, and too many people are being forced out of our city.

And the City of Boston is still producing the vast majority of new housing — both market rate and affordable — for our region. There’s a regional housing shortage keeping prices high, that we simply can’t address by ourselves.

So here’s what I said needs to happen.

1, We need cities and towns in our region to produce new housing, as Boston has done. We need every city and town to set a goal and work to meet it. And I called for support of the Governor’s Housing Choice bill, to help unlock good housing proposals.

2, We need developers to create middle-class housing. We’ve seen plenty of new luxury housing, and we’ve created record amounts of low-income housing. We’ll continue to protect our most vulnerable families and seniors.

But what’s missing is the middle. I understand that investors want to maximize their profits, but there has to be a balance between profit and impact. Our communities and our workforce need middle-class housing.

3, Pushing people out of their homes and their communities has to stop.

We created an Office of Housing Stability to tackle this crisis. It’s working with people to help them stay in their homes.

But we need stronger tools. We need the legislature to pass our bills protecting seniors and guaranteeing right-to-counsel for tenants facing eviction.

We also need owners and investors to take a step back and consider the human impacts of their actions. Profits can’t come at this kind of cost. It’s not a price and it’s not a practice that we’re going to accept in the City of Boston.

The bottom line is, housing is not a commodity; it’s a community. It’s where people build their lives. We have to be able to provide security and stability in our communities, and we have to be able to house our workforce.

My focus was the same on transportation and education: we need to strengthen and grow our middle class.

On transportation, we need a statewide plan that puts public transit at the center. A reliable, frequent, and affordable regional commuter rail system would give commuters more housing and job options, as well as relieving congestion and helping the environment. Just as we’ve done in the City of Boston, we need to work together, as partners, on a comprehensive plan. And we need to make the hard decisions necessary to fund and implement that plan.

On education, we need more businesses to partner with our schools, and help provide the network of enrichments and opportunities that students in many other districts take for granted. We are graduating an incredible number of bright, talented, diverse, ambitious young people. And there is much more potential in our schools waiting to be unlocked — but profound challenges stand in the way, from students still learning English to students experiencing homelessness. We need everyone’s support, becausewe can never be satisfied with our progress as long as achievement gaps remain.

We’ve done amazing things together in Boston. We’ve added 125,000 jobs to our economy and we’ve cut crime by 25%. We’re renovating our parks and building the first new high schools in a generation. We’ve led with our values of equity, inclusion, and compassion. Our policy innovations are being emulated all over the country, and we’re a global leader on climate action and coastal resilience.

But my message to the business community was, and is: we have a lot more work to do. We face big challenges. They are the kind of challenges that shape people’s lives, and they are the kind of challenges city government can’t fix by itself. We need all hands on deck.

To keep our economy working, we must provide what working people need: in housing, in transit, at schools, and in jobs. We have to give every single person a place to live and a path toward their dreams. To do that, we need to be focused not just on the short term and the bottom line, but on the long term and greater good.

We have to show our workers, both our long-time residents and our newest Bostonians — people from every neighborhood and walk of life — that this great city wasn’t built for someone else, it was built for them and for everyone.

To read my full remarks to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, please click here.