Wu’s speech also comes at a delicate moment in her relationship with business and real estate leaders, many of whom have balked at the mayor’s proposals to cap rent increases and increase the fees developers pay toward affordable housing construction.
During a radio interview on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” Monday, Wu said that in her State of the City speech, she intends to address “where we are,” but that the bulk of her message would be “what’s coming ahead.”
“There’s so much to convey,” Wu said Monday. She said she would focus on upcoming administration priorities “around our growth — development, housing, planning, and how it can be more integrated.”
Expect to hear the mayor talk about her signature issues: transportation, the municipal Green New Deal, education, and housing and development in the city. Here’s a few things to listen for when the mayor takes the stage Wednesday evening:
What tone will Wu set for year two?
In her public remarks as a candidate and as mayor, Wu has balanced optimism about the city’s potential with a sense of urgency about its challenges. Now, she’s well into her first term and has a number of tough political fights coming up: with the business world over the progressive housing policies she’s pitching; with change-resistant police unions at the bargaining table; and with a state Legislature that has historically had little interest in Boston’s priorities. How Wu characterizes those policy pushes could give a telling preview about her strategy for the debates to come.
Will she strike a conciliatory tone, suggesting that she aims to lean on allies and work behind the scenes? Or will she come out swinging, in a signal that she’ll exert public pressure on those who stand in the way of her priorities?
In her inaugural speech earlier this month, Healey spoke directly to business leaders in the state, telling them her administration would be “partners every step of the way.” As some of those powerbrokers mount opposition to elements of Wu’s housing plans, what message will the progressive mayor have for them?
How specific will Wu get on rent control, urban renewal, and the BPDA?
Wu last week unveiled her legislative agenda for the new two-year session on Beacon Hill, announcing the seven priorities she hopes to see the state approve for Boston. Among them were yet-to-be-filed proposals on two critical, controversial issues: Limiting how much rents in the city can increase each year, and changing “urban renewal,” a powerful development tool that allows Boston to seize so-called blighted property by eminent domain. Wu intends to send both plans to the State House as so-called “home-rule petitions,” meaning the policies must first go through the Boston City Council.
The mayor’s draft proposal on rent control would tie allowable increases to inflation, with a maximum hike of 10 percent allowed in high-inflation years, and exemptions for new construction and owner-occupied properties with few units. But that proposal is not final and has not yet been formally unveiled. This week’s speech gives Wu opportunities to lay out new details of her plan, and also to make her case directly to the leaders whose support she’ll need to get it passed.
Less is known about how precisely Wu would overhaul urban renewal, and what her plans are for the Boston Planning & Development Agency, a body she repeatedly said during her campaign she intended to “abolish.” Asked about the BPDA in December, the mayor she would have more to say this year. Questions also remain on urban renewal, which Wu said last year she would end by the end of 2022. Several urban renewal areas remain active into 2023, but administration officials told The Boston Globe last week they remain committed to sunsetting it.
What will Wu say about the city’s ongoing challenges at BPS and Mass. and Cass?
When she was sworn in as mayor in November 2021, Wu inherited longstanding problems at Boston Public Schools and near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, where the city’s homelessness, mental health, and addiction crises collide. This week’s speech gives her an opportunity to spotlight progress she’s made on both.
On schools, the city is working through a check list of wide-ranging changes to improve its academics and operations, part of an agreement reached with state education officials last year to avoid a state takeover. BPS has made progress on some issues, such as improving the punctuality of school buses, but the district has a lot more work ahead to improve special education offerings, craft a master plan for building new school facilities and refurbishing old ones, and bring back students who dropped out of school during the pandemic.
Wu can also point to improvements at Mass. and Cass. Her administration has helped hundreds of people find housing, whether on their own or in low threshold emergency housing sites, and cleared a persistent tent encampment that had become a health and safety hazard. Still, as Wu herself has acknowledged, housing, and addiction problems persist there and elsewhere in the city, with more services needed to meet the demand.
Emma Platoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.