BOSTON—Thomas Menino likes a tough job. The longtime mayor of Boston used to work as a Sec. 8 program administrator for the state.
Part of that early work included inspecting housing units. “I was everywhere, everywhere,” he says, recalling his dismay at the poor condition of some of the units that were being rented to families.
“That was part of my initiation,” he says. “When I became an elected official, I stayed with the issue. That's one of the important bonds of a family's life, having a decent place to live.”
First elected mayor in 1993, Menino is in his fourth term and is seeking an unprecedented fifth term this year.
Menino dubbed his 2000 housing campaign “Leading the Way.” That effort and its sequel, Leading the Way II, helped to create 18,000 new units of housing, including 5,000 affordable units. Another 9,500 affordable units have been preserved.
In March, he announced Leading the Way III, which takes aim at the city's changing housing needs.
In this campaign, a big goal is to reduce long-term homelessness and family homelessness by 50 percent by 2012. The number of people in homeless families has spiked more than 60 percent in the last few years. Foreclosures and jobs losses caused by the economic downturn are likely factors in the rise.
Boston's strategy for combatting family homelessness calls for creating a shelter diversion program to find non-shelter options for families, improving communications between shelter providers and organizations with access to permanent housing, and producing more housing for the homeless.
The campaign goes beyond homelessness and seeks to meet other housing needs. Its other goals include creating 3,000 new units of market-rate housing for the higher-wage sector, 1,500 new homeowners from the middle-wage sector by increasing assistance, and 1,000 new affordable rental units for the lower-wage sector. The program also wants to preserve 10,000 units of affordable rental housing, including at least 85 percent of all expiring-use units that are due to expire by 2012.
Menino, 66, admits that housing isn't an issue that gets politicians the headlines. That's why he says local officials, developers, and housing advocates have to remain committed.
“It's one of those issues that you have to stay with for a long period of time,” he says. “It's very hard to achieve your goals in six months or a year. It takes two or three years.”
It's a tough job, but that's what Menino is used to.