Housing was a top issue when voters chose Michelle Wu to lead Boston in November and now, the mayor said, it’s poised to form the basis of her pandemic recovery plan for the city.
In a virtual town hall with Boston Globe reporter Milton Valencia reflecting on her first 100 days in office Tuesday, Wu identified housing as a priority as the city faces an influx of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Wu and members of the City Council are charged with allocating the money to areas that saw growing needs during the pandemic.
“[Housing] is really what determines whether people can afford to live and thrive in our city,” Wu said. “The bulk of our ARPA funds will go towards housing stability.”
That could mean creating more affordable housing, or boosting homeownership to close the racial wealth gap, or working to reimagine what Boston could do with city-owned parcels, Wu said. The funds would also go toward transportation, like the federal grants used to make three bus routes fare-free this year, and for mental health projects, she said.
“What I love most about city government, and what I repeat incessantly in all of our cabinet meetings, is that you really have the potential to do big things by getting small things right,” Wu said.
Housing has been a major fixture of Wu’s first 100 days in office, a milestone she hit in late February, particularly with her efforts to move people dealing with substance use and mental health struggles from encampments at Mass. and Cass to temporary housing.
Wu’s term so far has also been somewhat frenetic, not least because she has been dogged by protests, often outside her home, by a small group of people opposed to her COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city workers. But the last few years in Boston city government as a whole have been a tumultuous time of transition.
When Wu was elected, she became the city’s third mayor in the span of less than a year, coming after Martin J. Walsh, who left to join the Biden administration, and acting mayor Kim Janey. Meanwhile, the city’s police department has not had a permanent leader since former Commissioner William Gross abruptly retired in January 2021, as Walsh’s pick, Dennis White, was fired by Janey after allegations of domestic violence resurfaced. And Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced last month that she will depart at the end of the year.
On Tuesday, Wu reiterated that she would fight attempts to bring the Boston Public Schools system into state receivership.
“From my perspective, we need all the partnerships we can get when it comes to investing in and putting resources towards our schools,” Wu said. “We also are in the midst of our transition and need that partnership and need to just stay focused on how we continue delivering for our young people through the end of the school year with the transition to a new superintendent starting next.”
Wu said the schools have made progress since the last state audit, and that she believes they should stay under the city’s control while City Hall searches for a new superintendent.
She also repeated her opposition to a fully-elected Boston School Committee.
“I believe that we need mayoral accountability for the system,” she said.
Wu did not name specific candidates for the leadership posts at either the city’s schools or the police department. Regarding the latter, she said, policing should be just one part of how the city views public safety, along with public health and building community trust.
At the end of the conversation, Valencia asked Wu what she would like the legacy of her administration to be after her first 100 days. Wu pulled out her phone and checked an app counting down the number of days left in her current term.
“It’s 1,380 days left in my term, and each one of them has to count,” Wu said. “I want the legacy of our administration to be lifting up young people making it the true citywide mission, across all parts of Boston.”
She also emphasized wanting to leave in place a new connection between communities and city government.
“This is your government. This is your building. These are your dollars,” Wu said. “This is our moment, and our chance as a city to really grab hold of that bright, brightest future that’s ahead of us.”
Watch the full town hall here.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.