Baker continues push for big housing investments

Boston Statehouse

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (State House News Service) – Gov. Charlie Baker visited the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield on Tuesday to celebrate the growth of a program that provides night and weekend activities for youth during the summer, but the Republican also pitched spending federal stimulus on homeownership in cities like Springfield.

“We have a great opportunity here and we should not blow it. We should put a ton of money into homeownership and into affordable housing,” Baker said.

The event took place at the Boys and Girls Club Family Center of Springfield against a backdrop of kids and center workers setting up for outdoor games on a lawn.

The governor said the seed for the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Summer Nights program was planted in the summer 2014 as he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were campaigning around the state.

When he came into office the next year, Baker said his administration cobbled together $200,000 from the existing budget and funded four programs to give young people in urban areas something to do at night and on weekends.

“If kids are not safe and they’re bored, it’s a big problem. This solves that,” Polito said, calling the program a “game changer” and a “life saver.”

Since 2014, Summer Nights has grown to $1.5 million with 45 participating organizations, including 10 in Springfield. The programs are offered through partnerships with cities, non-profits and other organizations and expose kids to everything from basketball and yoga to gardening, swimming and leadership training.

“We all know that our kids need activities to stay safe,” said Keshawn Dodds, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield.

The Boys and Girls Club uses its funding to stay open until 10 p.m. on weeknights during the summer, Dodds said.

Baker said he hopes the program continues to grow.

“If you find stuff that works, you should do more of it,” he said.

The discussion among speakers quickly pivoted, however, to the simmering debate over how to allocate billions in federal stimulus dollars.

Rep. Bud Williams lauded the Summer Nights program, but also spoke about Baker’s proposal to spend $1 billion of the more than $5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding on homeownership programs targeting families in communities of color.

“Let’s get behind this man. Homeownership. We have to create wealth,” Williams said, acknowledging the ongoing debate on Beacon Hill between the administration and the Legislature.

Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, the past chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said he asked Baker for $4 billion to be funneled back through economically disadvantaged communities like Springfield hit hard by the pandemic.

Baker responded by remarking to Gonzalez that his plan to spend roughly $2.9 billion of the ARPA funds would have made a major investment in housing and communities of color. That plan was rejected by the Legislature, where Democrats said they wanted to first hold public hearings on investment priorities.

“Basically about a billion and a half would have ended up in those communities hardest hit by the pandemic, so there’s plenty of room there to get to your four billion number, representative,” Baker said.

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