Federal cut proposals leave Walsh worried about housing

Congresswoman Katherine Clark spoke during a rally at Faneuil Hall on Monday as Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councillors Annissa Essaibi-George, Tim McCarthy, and Frank Baker looked on. Mayor’s Office photo/Isabel Leon.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh worries about the city’s ability to pick up the burden if Congress scales back funding for affordable housing.

“Last year’s budget was the first time that we needed to use general fund money to balance the housing authority budget, so as they continue to cut back programs and services we have to backfill those spots. We can’t be throwing people out on the street,” Walsh told reporters on Monday.

He said, “It seems like Washington is getting out of the business of housing, and let’s be honest - that’s dangerous.”

Walsh spoke at a Monday afternoon rally outside Faneuil Hall opposing proposed federal cuts for housing programs.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who opposed a Republican bill to reduce spending on the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told the crowd that thousands of people have called her office to oppose cuts.

“You keep fighting because our families are worth it,” Clark said.

Housing concerns are particularly acute in Boston, which has among the highest prices in the country.

The US House Appropriations Committee advanced a fiscal 2018 funding bill in July that includes $38.3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a $487 million decrease from the level enacted for fiscal 2017, according to the committee.

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican who is chairman of the committee, said the bill provides “responsible funding to ensure communities across the nation have access to necessary community development funds, and to provide housing to those who need it the most - including the poor, elderly, and disabled.”

The bill also includes $6.6 billion for community planning and development programs, which is $209 million below the amount enacted for fiscal 2017, according to the committee.

Clark said funding is due to expire Oct. 1 and she anticipates further action on the housing legislation after Congress returns from its summer recess.

“We hope that we’ll be able to come to a conclusion that is good for our families and our seniors and our veterans who are really looking at drastic cuts in the housing programs and funding they need and deserve,” Clark told the News Service. She said, “We’ll be back in September, and we’ll see what leadership does.”

The Republican-led Congress spent much of the first half of the year working on health care reforms to dramatically rework the Affordable Care Act, but that legislation stalled out in the US Senate last week. Clark said she is “hopeful” that Congress will work in a “bipartisan way” in the future.
A former building trades union leader, Walsh has called for 53,000 new housing units by 2030, and on Monday he said the city is using a variety of ways to create more homes for people.

“We’re turning over every single rock and stone looking to see how we can do more,” Walsh told the crowd. “You know it. I know it. Everyone who pays rent knows that we have to continue to do this.”

According to the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, which organized the rally, 13,551 new units of housing have been completed since Walsh laid out his housing plan in 2014, and 40 percent of those are “affordable for low and middle income households.”

Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson, who is running for mayor this year, said the city needs to be “more aggressive” about creating affordable housing.

“Let’s put it this way. Eighty-seven percent of the housing that’s being built in the city of Boston is being built for the top 25 percent, which means that people are getting gentrified and pushed out of their neighborhoods every day,” Jackson told the News Service. “We are not building housing at the pace that is going to continue to support the families that are living in the city of Boston.”

Clark’s message struck a chord with one of her constituents. Malden resident Patrick John Devine, who was standing near the stage, yelled “You wrote that?” after Clark finished her speech.

“You want a copy?” Clark responded.

Devine, who held a sign reading “Affordable Housing = Social Justice,” told the News Service he thought the speech was “sick, ridiculous” and “awesome.”

Regarding her rhetoric, Clark said her staff always provides her with a first draft of prepared remarks, which she then revises.

“And I usually don’t follow the script very well,” Clark told reporters.