Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Thursday that he’s creating an equity and inclusion Cabinet-level office to combat racial injustice and support marginalized communities in the city.
Speaking during a briefing outside City Hall, Walsh said the office will tackle “barriers to equity” and also work on issues such as health care access, women’s advancement, and supporting immigrants and refugees.
“The intention of this Cabinet-level office will be to really think outside the box” and bring ideas to city officials, Walsh said, adding that he’ll appoint a chief of equity and inclusion to “lead this work.”
The announcement was made a day after Walsh’s operating budget passed the City Council by an 8-5 margin in a much scrutinized vote that included vociferous opposition from several councilors who said the spending plan fell woefully short of the moment and the movement to dismantle structural racism.
The office will drive the work to dismantle systemic racism and embed equity in all planning and operations, said Walsh, who spoke of the need “to create greater opportunities for those who have been excluded in the past.”
Calls for racial justice have reverberated across the city, state, and nation following the high-profile killings of Black people by police in Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky., and elsewhere.
“This needs to be led by the community,” Walsh said. “This change needs to be led by all of us.”
He also touted a new racial equity fund the city is launching.
The new initiative would be similar to the city-led Boston Resiliency Fund, which has raised more than $32 million for COVID-19 relief efforts, but could become even larger. It will be called the Boston Racial Equity Fund, and Walsh’s aides said the money will support nonprofits focused on racial equity work through economic development, public health, youth jobs, and education and training. The initial objective for the fund is to raise $10 million, with the long-term goal being $50 million, Walsh said. The mayor expected to announce a steering committee for the fund next week.
“We all know that there’s still much more work to be done,” he said.
Walsh also said the city will be filing a new zoning amendment to protect access to fair housing in the city. It’s an idea that has been championed by Councilor Lydia Edwards, whose office last week announced that the Boston Planning and Development Agency had committed to drafting fair housing into the zoning code.
Walsh thanked city councilors who voted Tuesday to pass the $3.61 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Though the budget passed, dissenting councilors said it did not do enough to fight economic and racial inequalities and help communities of color.
One of those to vote against the budget, Councilor Michelle Wu, said in a Thursday statement, “Leveraging public-private partnerships and supporting philanthropy can make Boston stronger, but I’m troubled that the day after the City passed a $3.6B budget that falls short of the transformational steps toward racial justice needed to meet this moment, we see the Administration unveiling yet another City-controlled private fund.”
She continued: “We can’t just tackle long-standing racial inequities fund by fund, donation by donation, when communities are calling for structural changes in how the City does business — from the budget, to public contracting practices. Philanthropy in moments of crisis is not a substitute for building resiliency and investing in equity.”
Another operating budget “no” vote, Councilor Andrea Campbell, also appeared to be unimpressed by Thursday’s announcements from the mayor. She tweeted, “One day after asking us to pass a budget that failed to address systemic racism and inequity, the Mayor thinks he’ll be let off the hook with this announcement.”
A Walsh spokeswoman responded in a statement.
“There is no question that systemic change does not come from one policy or budget investment. Our goal must be to collectively build a process of change into our government and our society overall. Taken together, our new Equity and Inclusion Cabinet, Racial Equity Fund, and fair housing amendment, along with a budget that makes investments grounded in equity, we have taken steps for a strong start and we will not let up on this work,” she said.
Walsh said Thursday that had the budget not passed, the city would have been forced to send out notices warning of layoffs owing to the financial crunch brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget includes the reallocation of $12 million in police overtime spending — 20 percent of the department’s overtime budget — to other programs, including $3 million to the Public Health Commission for programs to combat systemic racism, he said.
Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report.