By John Lynds
Secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth Jay Ash was the keynote speaker at East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing’s annual meeting last Thursday at Spinelli’s.
Ash, a lifelong Democrat and former Chelsea City Manager, was Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s first cabinet secretary pick in 2014 told the crowd when he was asked to join Baker’s team he had a few questions.
“When the Governor asked me to join his staff we sat down and talked and I really admired how he approached his goals,” said Ash.
Ash, who navigated through past Republican administration’s social service cuts as Chelsea’s City Manager, had some reservations.
“He told me, ‘Jay, I’m not against spending money, I’m against wasting money’,” said Ash.
Ash said after that meeting he was confident Baker would continue to shore up crucial housing programs like NOAH and other Community Development Corporations (CDC) across the state.
“The governor has been making funds available for effective programs like NOAH and the CDCs that make a huge difference in the lives of people and communities,” said Ash. “While there have been budget cuts there are areas which we have increased funding.”
Ash pointed to the 20 percent increase in funding affordable housing projects in the state as well as an increase in funding to the housing voucher program. The state recently helped to fund NOAH’s Coppersmith Village project–a mix of affordable, market rate and commercial development near Eastie’s waterfront.
“We very much believe in the power of affordable housing as a way to stabilize families and spur economic growth,” said Ash. “The key to our success as a commonwealth is that every person living here, whether they are new comers or have lived here their entire lives, deserves the dignity of having housing.”
Ash, a product of affordable housing while growing up in neighboring Chelsea, said while his mother struggled in a single parent household, affordable housing allowed him and his brother to focus on education and not on the roof over their heads or where their next meal might come from.
“And the Governor has charged me with creating as much housing as possible and also to create prosperity for communities, businesses and people,” said Ash. “While cutting budgets the Governor has been protecting affordable housing and homeless services as well as creating new affordable housing and we are seeing the effects of these policies.”
Ash pointed to Baker’s goal of reducing the number of homeless satellite shelters being commonly run out of hotels and motels across the state.
“We made a commitment to have no homeless families living out of hotels and motels,” said Ash. “When we came into office there were 1,500 families living this way. We know that hotels and motels are good for one or two people for a short stay but not a good situation for entire families.”
By building more affordable housing, expanding housing vouchers and adding more resources to area homeless shelters, Ash said the Baker Administration has reduced the number from 1,500 in 2015 to less than 200 today.
“And we won’t stop until that number is zero,” he said.
Ash also touched upon the recent Presidential Election and how programs like NOAH may do under a Trump Administration.
“Everyone is a little anxious and change is a tough thing,” said Ash. “We don’t know what’s going to happen next month or in a year or two years. However, there are certain constants in our lives. When you have a 29 year reputation for continuing to meet and exceed every challenge that is presented to you like NOAH has and when you have a dynamic leader and a great team like NOAH, you will be able to face any challenge and continue to make a difference in the lives of people that need help and support.”
NOAH Executive Director Phil Giffee said Ash’s speech was a big hit among the crowd.
“From everyone who talked to me, Jay was a terrific speaker,” said Giffee. “They said he was calm, engaging, interesting and connected to the issues of the community. I know him to be a friend of CDC’s and urban communities. He is charged with creating economic development opportunities, but he gets the human side, the hard work of everyday people and elected officials who strive to make their communities stronger places for businesses and families. We are proud he took the time to be with us and grateful for his many kind words about NOAH.”