Good morning! Thank you Miceal Chamberlain for that introduction. And thank you, Jim Rooney. You were an integral part of my transition committee, and I am grateful for your leadership. I also want to extend my gratitude to the Chair of the Board, Micho Spring.
I’m pleased to be joining you today from the Rapid 7 headquarters located in The Hub on Causeway in Boston. Rapid 7 is a leading global technology company, led by Corey Thomas. Like Corey, I am committed to investing in Boston’s diverse pool of strong and exceptional talent. I appreciate Rapid 7 for hosting me today.
It’s a beautiful day in Boston.
Today, we are healthier than we have been at any time in over a year. New cases of COVID remain at low levels. More than half of our residents are fully vaccinated. Over 60 percent have received at least one dose. And, for those hardest hit by this pandemic — our seniors — over 75% are fully vaccinated.
Today, our economy is rebounding, and people are getting back to work. Our unemployment rate has dropped from 16% a year ago to roughly 6% today. And, economic activity continues to pick up.
And, today, Boston is buzzing. Tens of thousands of people were out this weekend. Families and friends reconnecting across our city — from Juneteenth celebrations at Franklin Park to barbeques in backyards. Residents and visitors are strolling in our neighborhoods, cooling off in our parks, and dining under our streetlights and stars.
It truly is a beautiful day in Boston.
As we reflect on our recovery and reopening, we must neither forget the 1,389 souls that we have lost in Boston due to COVID, nor the distance we still have to go as a city.
Boston — our neighborhoods, our business community, our people — is incredibly strong and resilient. And, the challenges we faced prior to COVID are still ones we must solve today: rising sea levels, high housing costs, and wealth, health and wage disparities along race and gender lines.
Our work over the last 16 months provides a path we can follow to tackle these challenges. We are recovering from this pandemic because we analyzed the data and followed the science. We made tough decisions both at home and at work. And, above all, we partnered together, focusing our efforts on those most in need.
Black Suffragist Mary Church Terrell coined the phrase “lifting as we climb.” She understood that our own progress is tied to improving the conditions of others.
When I took the oath of office, I promised to lift up the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and improve the health, wellness, and economic status of workers and our business community.
That promise guided the municipal budget that I submitted to the City Council for approval next week. I want to thank Justin Sterritt, our CFO, and his team for their work.
My budget includes a $3.2 billion dollar capital plan. It is the largest in our city’s history. I believe that now is the time to invest in Boston. It will shape our recovery.
To prepare the workforce for our future, we are funding new and renovated public schools across our city, like the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Chinatown that we broke ground on last week.
- To strengthen the open spaces that residents relied on this past year, we are investing in nearly 80 different projects in our parks;
- To mend the fabric of our neighborhoods after this year of social distancing, we are funding hundreds of millions of dollars for our cherished community centers and libraries;
- And, to make transit and transportation more safe, reliable, and accessible for all, we are dedicating over $1 Billion to improving our streets and sidewalks all across our city.
As we invest through this budget, we are creating the structures that allow us to not just get back on our feet but to go better as a city.
In this budget, we are funding Boston’s first Office of Participatory Budgeting, to elevate the voice that residents have in City Hall.
We are creating an Office of Police Accountability & Transparency. This office will strengthen the trust between the public and our police department.
And, we are investing heavily in the staff and programs necessary to address the disparities that exist in how City government contracts.
The City’s recent Disparity Study examined the $2.1 billion in City government contracts between 2014 and 2019. The study revealed that only 2.5% of the spending went to minority and women-owned businesses combined, and less than one percent went to Black-owned businesses. In a city that has a population that is majority people of color, and in a city that is brimming with talented entrepreneurs of every race, ethnicity and gender, we can do better. We must do better.
Through the work of our Chief of Equity and Inclusion, Celina Barrios-Millner, we are transforming our procurement process to foster systemic change. We are marketing all of our procurement opportunities to diverse vendors, developing yearly equitable spending plans at the department level, and supporting the growth of minority and women-owned businesses.
We are also developing a pipeline of diverse vendors. This week we awarded grants to 56 local, diverse businesses through our newly created Boston Contracting Opportunity Fund. This fund helps businesses build their capacity to compete for City contracts. One of the grantees is Ricardo Pierre-Louis of Roxbury. Ricardo ran a valet parking service that was devastated by the pandemic when restaurants shut down. With relief funds from the city, he will be able to support his employees and pivot his operations to managing garages. His business, Privé [Pre-Vay] Parking, was recently awarded a major private contract on the South Boston Waterfront and he will leverage the Opportunity Fund grant to scale up.
To further help all companies compete for City contracts, I have created a new five-person Supplier Diversity Team. This team is charged with creating fair and equitable access to City contracting opportunities. This team is led by a Supplier Diversity Manager.
I have created a new Director of Strategic Procurement in our Administration and Finance Cabinet. Together, the Director of Strategic Procurement and the Supplier Diversity Team, will develop the City’s first-ever Purchasing Plan. This will help companies see what we plan to purchase so that businesses can get ready to bid.
I want to make it easier for businesses to connect with us, so we are hosting Pathways to City Contracting Opportunity Fairs where entrepreneurs meet with City departments and learn about upcoming contracting opportunities that align with their expertise. Quite like the Chamber’s Pacesetter’s program, the City is proactively inviting underrepresented enterprises to do business with us.
This is an intentional focus on addressing racial disparities as we advance the City’s largest capital budget. It will, over time, increase competition for City contracts, strengthen local businesses, and close persistent wealth gaps in our city.
We need to take that same approach in our support for workers and in our housing policy. We must be intentional in our efforts as we emerge from this crisis so that we rebound as a stronger city.
That means we must continue our focus on those most impacted during this crisis. For many of our lowest income workers, that means simply being able to pay the rent.
We have responded with a $50 million dollar Rental Relief Fund. This fund helps renters remain in their homes; it helps landlords keep up their buildings; and, it helps our neighborhoods have stability as we emerge from this crisis.
This fund is already making a real difference for residents like Marlinda, an elderly woman from Allston. She was about to be evicted from an apartment that she lived in for 27 years. She owed $15,000 in back rent. We were able to pay her landlord all that was due. With our help, Marlinda was able to stay in her home.
Suzanne, a landlord from Dorchester who did not want to evict her tenant when he fell ill during the pandemic, had applied for rental relief on his behalf. Through this fund, we paid his back rent, utilities, and two months of future rent.
Rental relief is helping our residents get through this crisis. But, systemic change is needed to make Boston affordable for the long term. I strongly support the growth of housing in Boston, but it must be growth that helps to build a middle class and keep our city accessible to all.
In July, we will take another step in that direction. Under the leadership of Sheila Dillon, our Chief of Housing, we will release a funding RFP of $30M to support the creation of housing for families, seniors, and currently homeless residents.
Homeownership is also a key strategy for tackling the wealth gap in Boston. To make homeownership more accessible, I recently invested $2.4 million into the Boston Home Center’s first-time Homebuyer Program. This commitment more than triples the average amount of assistance previously offered by the City to income-eligible, first-time homebuyers.
Emergency relief for renters and homeownership opportunities for residents gives our city and our economy stability. As does support for our small businesses and our City’s entrepreneurs.
The spirit of entrepreneurship resides deeply in my blood. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. From construction to graphic design, from insurance to small business incubators, I am proud to come from an enterprising family that means business.
Our business community experienced multiple closures and loss of profits during the pandemic. Through grant-making initiatives, such as the Small Business Relief Fund, we distributed $16 million dollars to over 4,000 small businesses — from iFresh Noodle in Allston to Beacon Hill Nutrition in the Back Bay to Mattapan Bottle and Can, Inc to the Rozzie Square Theater.
To ensure that small businesses can thrive as our city reopens, we’ve recently taken steps to expand our commercial rent relief and small business support programs by another $16 million dollars. This investment also helps business owners, their landlords and property managers build long-standing partnerships with each other and with the neighborhoods they serve.
Our travel and hospitality sector, which is 70% people of color and the 3rd largest industry in Boston, plummeted during the pandemic. This sector is still climbing towards recovery. So, we launched and extended the All Inclusive Boston campaign. This campaign encourages residents and travelers to take advantage of the unique offerings in each of Boston’s neighborhoods. We also launched the B Local app to support small businesses by rewarding users for shopping locally.
Just last week, Midori Morikawa, our Chief of Economic Development, and I hosted a listening session with a critical part of the hospitality sector: our restaurant owners. I heard the challenges they are facing: severe staffing hurdles, limited operating hours, and massive debt from PPP loans. We also heard how valuable the outdoor dining program has been during this pandemic. It’s been a lifeline for many of our restaurants.
Coming out of this listening session, we are putting in place $1.7 million dollars in new City support for our restaurants.
This includes a new outdoor dining team to work with restaurateurs and neighborhoods to bring dining to streets, sidewalks, and open spaces in the years ahead. It also will fund a marketing campaign for local business restaurants in Boston, to raise their profile as we recover as a city.
To address the staffing challenges that restaurant owners identified, this funding will also support staff recruitment and retention bonuses and offer tuition assistance to workers for two years while employed at a restaurant. This should help our local restaurants — and their employees — rise as we recover.
No matter the scale of your business, you know that your employees are your most critical asset.
That’s why I am putting workers at the center of Boston’s recovery. I am committed to making sure investments in Boston’s reopening not only help businesses but also help workers whose employment and savings were most impacted by COVID.
That’s why, in our FY ‘22 budget, we are allocating $1 million in job training in the hardest-hit industries and $1 million in job training for artists. It’s why this budget also expands programs to support child care entrepreneurs, immigrant professionals, and careers in green jobs and transportation. And, it’s a budget that invests $4 million to expand our City-sponsored youth summer jobs program to reach 5,000 youth during the summer and 1,000 youth year-round.
To help ensure that these investments and our policies in City Hall best support workers, I’m proud to announce the creation of a new cabinet-level Chief of Labor and Workforce Development.
This new cabinet member will help identify and advocate for legislation and investments that will end wage disparities and create stronger career pathways. And, they will work across the city to ensure Boston’s workers have the skills they need to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.
By focusing on our workers, by supporting our businesses, by diversifying who we contract with, we will all rise from this pandemic to a stronger Boston that is more equitable, just, and resilient.
So, I encourage you, in the days ahead, to invest in our talented, local and diverse businesses, who are eager to do business with you!
As you return to your offices, hire Boston residents, and make Boston youth part of your reopening plans. They need opportunities to grow their skills in a professional workplace.
Dine in our neighborhood restaurants. As you make plans for a joyful summer, choose a destination in a Boston neighborhood you’ve never been to before.
We are going better, we are centering equity, and we are “lifting as we climb!