Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled plans Thursday to launch an “equity and inclusion cabinet” within his administration and a racial equity fund, and announced intent for a new zoning amendment to address resident displacement — all efforts he says will move the city towards combatting embedded racism in the long term.
“Systemic change doesn’t come from one policy or budget investment,” Walsh told reporters outside City Hall. “We’ve seen that that doesn’t work because it’s been going on for decades not only here in this city and the commonwealth, but the country. Our goals must be to build a process for change into the way government and our society works.”
The Democratic mayor said the new initiatives will serve as vehicles to both dismantle racism within city government, while empowering communities to take action on their own.
The announcement comes amid the fervent social movement for civil rights following the death of George Floyd and a day after the City Council voted 8-5 to approve Walsh’s $3.61 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 during a contentious hearing.
While the budget re-allocates $12 million, or 20 percent, from the Boston police overtime fund into public health and social services, opponents said they do not feel Walsh’s plan goes far enough in meeting public calls for change and police reform, and in tackling deep-seated racial disparities in the city.
Walsh framed his proposals Thursday as reforms that will allow for change through the city budget and said the allocations approved this week let these efforts launch.
“We all know there is still much more work that needs to be done, but we have made a strong start,” he said. “And we are well positioned to continue this work.”
Walsh said he will appoint a chief to helm the cabinet made up of existing departments of the Office of Resilience and Racial Equity, Diversity, Language and Communication Access, Women’s Advancement, Immigrant Advancement, and Human Rights.
Together, members of the group will partner with residents, community groups, the private sector, and nonprofits to effect equity in Boston’s economy and society, while reviewing policy “at the highest levels” of local government, he said.
Part of that work will include breaking down barriers to equity in “health and economic wellbeing,” he said.
“It will apply an equity lens to every single department and service, ensuring accountability to this lens in all of our city policies and practices,” Walsh said. “It will put an intentional focus on supporting communities of color and marginalized groups.”
I am taking executive action to create, for the first time in #Boston’s history, an Equity and Inclusion Cabinet in my administration. The Equity and Inclusion Cabinet will drive the work to dismantle systemic racism and embed equity in all planning and operations moving forward.
— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) June 25, 2020
Additionally, Walsh announced plans to create the “Boston Racial Equity Fund,” which will work closely with the cabinet to invest in nonprofits that “empower Black and brown residents in economic development, in public health, in youth employment, in education, in the arts, and other areas,” he said.
The fund is following the model set by the “Boston Resiliency Fund,” the COVID-19 response fund launched earlier this year that’s brought in $32.3 million through private donations, officials said.
Walsh also pointed to the city’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force, which has focused on the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on communities of color, as encouragement that the new initiatives announced Thursday can thrive.
The mayor said the initiative is partially fueled by an outpouring of local business leaders who have told him they want to invest in uplifting communities of color.
Officials have set an initial goal to raise $10 million for the fund, with a long-term benchmark of $50 million.
Walsh is expected to announce a steering committee for the effort made up of higher education, business, and community development leaders next week.
According to The Boston Globe, Emerson College President Lee Pelton will chair the committee.
Pelton recently wrote openly to the Emerson community, detailing his experiences as a Black man in America. Some city councilors who objected to Walsh’s budget proposal Wednesday raised issue with the approach to address racial disparities through another city-owned fund.
Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu, who offered a sharp critique of the Walsh administration Wednesday, said in a statement Thursday she is encouraged to see Boston leaders willing to step up, but has concerns with the rollout of a private fund.
“Leveraging public-private partnerships and supporting philanthropy can make Boston stronger, but I’m troubled that the day after the city passed a $3.6 billion budget that falls short of the transformational steps toward racial justice needed to meet this moment, we see the administration unveiling yet another city-controlled private fund.”
Wu said long-standing racial inequities cannot be addressed “fund by fund, donation by donation” when the public is calling on officials to take sweeping, structural reform in government functions.
“Philanthropy in moments of crisis is not a substitute for building resiliency and investing in equity,” she said.
District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell, in a tweet, said philanthropy can play an important role, but true change “should start with the city’s own multi-billion dollar budget and legislative action.”
Campbell also took aim at the new cabinet position.
“There is no shortage of actionable ideas that residents and I have shared with the mayor to transform inequitable systems — creating a duplicative position in his cabinet was not on that list,” she wrote.
Philanthropy plays an important role in advancing equity and I am excited about investments the Racial Equity Fund will make, but true systems change should start with the City’s own multi-billion dollar budget and legislative action.
— Andrea J. Campbell (@CampbellforD4) June 25, 2020
On Thursday, Walsh also said officials this year will file a zoning amendment focused on access to fair housing that will require developers to take additional steps in fighting displacement and promoting inclusion in local neighborhoods.
City agencies are working together to build a tool that will assess project proposals and identify and address within them the risk of resident displacement, and “foster access for historically excluded communities,” Walsh said.
The law would make Boston the first city in the nation with fair housing requirements etched into its zoning code, according to Walsh, who said similar efforts have been discussed on the national stage dating back to former President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Walsh thanked city councilors Lydia Edwards and Kenzie Bok for working on the issue. Edwards first filed an amendment on the topic last year.
“They have worked very closely on drafting this language and we look forward to additional conversations with the council as a whole and the community,” he said.
Walsh, who declared racism a public health crisis earlier this month, also stressed the need for the work in rooting out systemic racism to come from residents, not one particular fund or policy.
“This cannot be led by a mayor,” he said. “This cannot be led by political leaders and city councilors. This needs to be led by the community. This change needs to come through all of us.”