Mayor Marc C. McGovern and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale delivered the annual State of the City Address last night at City Hall.
In addition to highlighting the progress of the city—including a number of new initiatives to bridge the gap between low- and high-income families, address the needs of students with disabilities, and combat the opioid crisis—McGovern pointed out what still needs to be done. He discussed the persisting problems of homelessness, racial inequity, and classism.
Here are our five big takeaways from his speech. The full text is available here.
1. “Housing is a human right.”
McGovern said in his address that the council’s most pressing concern is the housing crisis in Cambridge, according to a transcript of the speech, which he is combatting with the Housing Committee. Co-chaired by Councilor E. Denise Simmons and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, the committee is working to direct more resources into developing affordable housing under the Inclusionary Zoning program. Siddiqui will also lead a new committee, to be formed in January, that will address tenant protections and recommend anti-displacement practices.
Hundreds still remain homeless in Cambridge, and over 400 people spent time at the city’s newly created Warming Center for the Homeless this past year, McGovern said. A new program will be piloted in partnership with the Human Services Department and Harvard Law School students to assist the homeless with receiving proper identification.
2. “Cambridge is not immune to issues of class and race.”
Cambridge is still actively fighting to be a more inclusive city. Every year, Cambridge celebrates holidays like Loving Day, which marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court overturning laws banning interracial marriage. This year, the city partnered with North American Indian Center of Boston and Cultural Survival to publicly celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The city also worked with the Cambridge Community Foundation to distribute a quarter of a million dollars in grants to local legal defense organizations working with immigrants threatened by deportation.
However, there is still work to be done regarding racial inequity. One approach is the Cambridge Digs DEEP initiative, an event series dedicated to facilitating difficult and frank discussions between citizens about their experiences with racism in the city. The first event was a public forum in November, and the initiative will continue into the new year.
3. “We saw a record number of women elected to positions at every level of our government.”
This year, Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts. “The positive impact of women in politics is exemplified by the expertise, perspective, and accomplishments of our own elected officials right here in Cambridge,” McGovern said, according to the transcript. He highlighted the accomplishments of Simmons, Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Councilor Alanna Mallon, School Committee Vice Chair Kathleen Kelly, and School Committee Members Patricia Nolan, Manikka Bowman, and Emily Dexter.
4. “One of the deadliest threats that faces our community comes from the ongoing opioid epidemic.”
Between the years of 2013 and 2017, 115 people have died in Cambridge as a result of opioid-related overdoses. Within a few months, the Opioid Working Group will share a report with the city council. The purposes of the group are to lay a foundation for a citywide response to the crisis, to educate community members, to support the needs of the people with a substance abuse disorder, and to develop specific strategies to honor their needs within the city, according to McGovern.
5. “Education cannot be the great equalizer when students come into the classroom carrying the weight of inequality at home.”
Changes have been implemented in schools in order to ensure that no student is forced to go to class with an empty stomach. There is now universal free breakfast in Cambridge Public Schools, and the free lunch program has been expanded based on the findings of a 2017 Free and Reduced Lunch Program Report.
In addition, the council is working toward developing a children’s savings account program to encourage families to contribute savings for college education. The City of Cambridge will also soon have its first fully accessible playground.