In a wide-ranging discussion about Boston’s progress and continuing challenges, Mayor Martin Walsh called on developers and other real estate professionals to help the city and state move housing and infrastructure initiatives forward in light of an absent federal government.
“I’m disappointed because the federal government should be doing housing and infrastructure,” Walsh told attendees at the 2018 ULI Fall Meeting in Boston. “Honestly, it comes down to you in this room that have to take part in this process. We have to think creatively.”
Walsh made the comments during a panel that included Jay Ash, secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and moderator Bryan Koop, executive vice president for the Boston region of Boston Properties. Together they discussed how partnering with the state and private organizations has led to unprecedented growth in the Boston region over the last four years.
Among other successes, employment has grown by 100,000, Boston lured the General Electric headquarters, and the city is in the midst of a building boom, particularly in its Seaport District. But just as the development of Seaport began with a plan some 25 years ago, the city needs to continue to maintain momentum, Walsh and Ash said.
As part of that goal, the city has completed Imagine 2030 Boston, the first citywide plan in 50 years, which capitalizes on Boston’s upcoming 400th birthday. The plan will guide growth to support the economy and expand opportunities for all residents, Walsh said.
While Koop noted that the plan is an important and dependable development guide —a quality appreciated by developers —Walsh said that it laid the groundwork to create a more sustainable, equitable, and diverse city over the long term. Among other goals, Walsh noted, Boston is striving to become carbon neutral by 2050.
“The 2030 Boston plan isn’t something we’ve put on a shelf; it’s evolving all the time,” he said. “We have to be planning forward because it opens so many more opportunities and possibilities.”
The city and region still face challenges, however, with affordable housing and transportation chief among them. By working together, Boston and the state have built 3,800 units over the past four years, Ash said. As part of the Boston 2030 plan, the city also has a goal to build 53,000 new affordable homes over the next 12 years, while Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has set a goal for the development of 125,000 new affordable housing units in the state by 2025.
The state has dedicated some $200 million in tax credits to fund Boston’s affordable housing efforts, Ash said. “The reason we support that is because we see the city ponying up dollars,” he added, referring to a city tax earmarked for affordable housing initiatives. “So we’re in it together to create more affordable housing. The message is, ‘Build, baby, build.’”
To continue to build employment, Boston needs to continue to improve and expand its transportation infrastructure. Growing areas such as Seaport, for example, lack a mass transit station, Walsh and Ash agreed.
“Transportation is part of the three-legged stool with housing and workforce,” Ash said. “The great news here in Massachusetts is that we have more people working today than ever before. But that causes lots of traffic jams in our transportation spaces.”
Referring to Walsh and Ash as “the dynamic duo,” Koop pointed out that the mayor and Governor Baker, who appointed Ash, come from two opposing political parties but still work well together. Ash and Walsh said that the key was to focus on the 90 percent of issues that people agreed upon.
“It’s important to set a common set of goals and move toward the goals,” Walsh said. “We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on a lot more than we disagree on.”