2021 Boston elections

Boston City Council At-Large Race: David Halbert

"I want to ensure that city government does a more effective and intentional job of integrating equity into decisions on operations, spending, and long-term planning."

David Halbert. Lauryn Allen

David Halbert, 40, was most recently the outreach manager for The Educational Justice Institute at MIT. He lives in Dorchester with his wife Lauren and two daughters.

Halbert graduated from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for his bachelor’s degree and graduated from Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs with a Master of Public Administration.

After an initial survey before the primary election in September, we surveyed Halbert again: this time, on some of the election’s most pressing issues. Here are his responses.

What are your thoughts on Mass. and Cass and what solutions would you suggest to the problems that have arisen in the area?

The situation at Mass. and Cass is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, and it’s critical that any and all efforts to address this crisis affirm the humanity of those involved. We should not and cannot criminalize addiction; rather, we need to lead from a place of compassion, honesty, and collaboration. I strongly believe that we must embrace a housing-first plan – the first step on the road to recovery is a reliable roof over your head. Reliable, transitional housing for those who are living in the area surrounding Mass. and Cass ought to be one of our first priorities, and a required component to any proposed plan being considered. We must also increase neighborhood early intervention, invest in providing support for individuals to receive treatment for substance use disorder, and lead with honesty while prioritizing safety by taking a serious look at the benefits of safe consumption sites, among other interventions. Boston, particularly the South End, Roxbury, and Newmarket, is a regional hub for substance use disorder treatment. We must decentralize services by leading a regional approach to find long-term solutions that focus on health and an equitable sharing of work with our neighboring communities to address the current congestion of those in need at Mass. and Cass.

How can housing in Boston be more affordable and inclusive of all communities while mitigating gentrification?

Boston needs to make use of every tool available to adequately address the need for more affordable housing. We need to encourage increased housing development that provides options for neighbors and families to stay in Boston long-term by making the best use of space while minimizing disruption to communities. As City Councilor, I’m committed to working to establish a homes guarantee and return our ability to enact city-wide rent control. I’ll work to increase affordable housing access by raising the Inclusionary Development Policy percentage to a minimum of 20% on-site and 25% off-site. I’ll also promote smart density in development by advocating for new developments to be sited near major thoroughfares and public transit hubs to mitigate traffic-related environmental impacts and parking strains associated with new residents while making the necessary investments in public transportation to make this viable. We must promote increased production of 2+ bedroom units in new development projects to give more housing options to families, not just individuals and couples. As we come through the pandemic we need to strengthen guidelines to protect neighborhoods from accelerated gentrification by housing speculators seeking to profit from buying and flipping distressed properties for pennies on the dollar. We must also work to strengthen tenants’ rights and prevent unjust evictions through the pandemic.

How would you, if at all, adjust the Boston Police Department budget?

The answer to every problem is not an armed officer. We must invest in neighborhood intervention, more social workers, expanded mental health & substance use disorder care, and the development and deployment of trauma- and crisis-informed unarmed first responders. We must also ensure that the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency has the funding it needs to effectively meet its mandate. Funding for these initiatives can be identified through intentional efforts to rein in overtime spending and eliminating programs like the gang database, which disproportionately harms communities of color, particularly men, among other efforts. Making these investments will help support the most important element of true public safety, community trust. The greatest lever city government has to impact and influence our criminal justice system is what we choose to invest in with the budget, because our budget shows our values. As city councilor, I will work with the mayor and the council to implement these changes through the collective bargaining process with our police unions and through the design and implementation of the city’s operating budget.

What are your top priorities for Boston Public Schools right now?

Top priorities for BPS should be: Changing the structure of the school committee in order to give communities and families more direct input into the education of our children, including the addition of a student member with a full vote. Spending the $300 million in BPS ARPA funding in ways that make long-term investments focused on achieving greater equity and innovation systemwide. Establishing universal K0 & K1 access. Creating a more effective and higher capacity support structure for our special needs students and their families. Moving to a comprehensive foundational funding model instead of the per pupil spending model that has caused so many problems, especially in high need schools. Recruiting and retaining a teacher cohort that better reflects the diversity of BPS. Modernizing buildings by addressing our deferred maintenance backlog and need for infrastructure upgrades, particularly around HVAC systems.

What are two of your top priorities that you would like to address?

I want to ensure that city government does a more effective and intentional job of integrating equity into decisions on operations, spending, and long-term planning. I want to use the council’s Post Audit and Oversight Committee to conduct comprehensive, transparent inquiries into Boston’s current equity efforts in all departments, make the findings easily available to the public, and use them to set firm targets for tangible deliverables across city government. The goal of these efforts will be to increase public trust in government operations and ensure that communities which have been historically underserved, particularly communities of color, have the ability to meaningfully gain ground in terms of overall health, wealth, and quality of life. I also want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support our small business sector, which has faced so many challenges during the pandemic. This means directing more city spending to local small businesses by breaking up municipal contracts to help remove structural barriers to participation. This also means meeting real goals for increased contracting with women and minority owned businesses. We must also work to direct more spending from our non-profit and corporate sectors towards our small business community as well.

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Visit David Halbert at his website, or social media @votehalbert on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Candidate responses were edited for length and clarity.

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