WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- America's labor movement lost a big supporter last month with the passing of former Boston Mayor Thomas Michael Menino.
Mayor Menino's first priority was always improving Boston's neighborhoods, making him the perfect partner for investments from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT). Their partnership on many projects expanded affordable housing and created union construction jobs in Boston.
The son of a Westinghouse Electric factory foreman, Mayor Menino was always more at home talking to Boston's working-class residents than rubbing shoulders with the elite. It was his passion to help working people, and those less fortunate than him, that propelled this gentle giant to be the most beloved public official in the city's proud history. Mayor Menino won an astounding five consecutive election campaigns, leading the city from 1993 until he announced in March 2013 that he would not seek a sixth term.
In an age when citizens openly express cynicism towards public officials, Mayor Menino was cut from a different cloth. There was nothing phony about him. Mayor Menino let you know when he liked you, and you also knew when he didn't. But mostly he was a man with big plans and great ambitions for the city that he loved and its neighborhoods. He worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for his least fortunate constituents and working families.
"Tom and I collaborated on a number of things through the years, including the HIT's investments in Boston during his tenure," said Steve Coyle, the HIT's CEO. "We financed more than 20 affordable housing developments while he was Mayor. Through my work, I've been fortunate to know some of America's great mayors. Willie Brown, Tony Williams, Ray Flynn . . .Tom Menino was among the best. He was a great human being. I will miss him."
Moreover, Coyle said, "In negotiations, Tom would fight you tooth and nail to get a better deal for the people of Boston. But it never bothered us. He was so genuine and sincere about advocating for Boston, its residents and its neighborhoods. We went the extra yard to ensure that Boston got the best deal possible. That was because of our respect for Tom."
John J. Sweeney, the HIT Board chairman and AFL-CIO President Emeritus, said that Mayor Menino was a true friend to union workers.
"This is a man who cared deeply about working men and women," said Sweeney. "Mayor Menino was driven by a desire to implement public policies that improved the quality of life for working families. That is his legacy. He cared about people, all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or gender. He had a big heart. The entire labor movement mourns the passing of this great leader, family man and visionary, who has made Boston a better place for everyone."
Richard L. Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, said that Mayor Menino understood the importance of affordable housing and worked tirelessly to ensure that Boston residents had adequate housing in their neighborhoods. "He knew that affordable housing is what builds strong communities," Trumka said. "He knew that housing was the foundation for every successful community in this country. The Mayor wanted Boston residents to live and thrive in their neighborhoods, just as he did growing up in Hyde Park. Mayor Tom Menino was a man of the neighborhoods. He will be missed."
During Mayor Menino's tenure in office, the HIT and its subsidiary, Building America, financed 24 projects in Boston with union pension capital, the most in any single location over that time period. The HIT invested over $450 million dollars in these developments, creating 3,259 housing units and over 4,900 union construction jobs. Of these projects, two were financed by Building America, utilizing $13 million in New Markets Tax Credits.
The Charlesview Apartments in Brighton epitomize the kind of housing deals that Mayor Menino brought to his city.
In May 2011, the HIT invested $58.2 million of union pension capital into the construction of the new Charlesview Apartments. With a total development cost of $152 million, the project built 240 units of affordable rental units, while creating approximately 860 union construction jobs. Of the 240 units, 221 were for families that meet Section 8 or Low Income Housing Tax Credit eligibility, and the 19 remaining units were reserved for residents of the original Charlesview development.
At the grand opening in 2013, Mayor Menino beamed with excitement.
"Boston is about creating housing and economic opportunities for all our people," he told the gathering. "That's what Charlesview is all about…I think the AFL-CIO [HIT] investment in this project is very important. It made it happen. Without their investment in these affordable housing units, over 200 units of housing would just not happen. And that's what the AFL-CIO [HIT] investment fund does all throughout our country - making sure we have the preservation of affordable housing, and new startups. I'm really pleased that they're involved, and that's hard working union members' money going to work to produce housing for other hard working individuals."
Mayor Menino also noted the importance of creating jobs. "A job is the greatest equalizer in life," he said. "We're all here - elected officials, myself - determined to put more people back to work. So I'm glad this project is creating union jobs."
Then, Mayor Menino flashed his trademark wry wit: "What a wonderful day in the neighborhood, isn't it? The tenants are over here. When we all started this project, we all were younger, we all had black hair. Over the years, we got gray hair, we got a little older, but this is a wonderful day for all of us."
These HIT-funded projects, which all reflect Mayor Menino's commitment to the neighborhoods, greatly impacted Boston residents.
The transformation of Old Colony, one of the Boston Housing Authority's largest properties, is another example of a development project helping to revitalize neighborhoods and improving the quality of life for residents under Major Menino's watch. The project impacts working-class families - men, women and children who often must overcome financial and other challenges in everyday life.
Samantha Juliano, 22, moved into Old Colony when she was seven years old; she remembers it as dreary, little greenery, and largely unsafe. Today, 15 years later, after an HIT investment into the overhaul of the South Boston landmark, she's proud to live there with her own family. "It is so much more beautiful than it was," she says. "Before, it was brick buildings. Now there are playgrounds for the kids and grass where they can play Slip 'N Slide and kickball. The old people come out, and they sit and talk. It's much more of a neighborhood now than it was before."
In 2010, a HIT investment of $26.7 million contributed to construction of 116 affordable housing units in Old Colony and a new 10,000-square-foot community center. In a second phase of development, the HIT invested $33.5 million toward an additional 129 affordable rental units.
Mayor Menino is also heralded for his development of Boston waterfront and creating new industrial zones in the city; his calming of Boston racial tensions and being a politician who absolutely loved his job.
Even President Barack Obama and the First Lady offered a tribute to Mayor Menino.
"Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Menino," the President said. "Bold, big-hearted, and Boston strong, Tom was the embodiment of the city he loved and led for more than two decades. As Boston's longest-serving mayor, Tom helped make his hometown the vibrant, welcoming, world-class place it is today. His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live. I had a chance to speak with Tom's wife, Angela, yesterday, and today our thoughts and prayers are with her, with the entire Menino family, and with the people of Boston who Tom loved so much, and who loved him in return."
For Mayor Menino, his favorite president and personal hero was President Harry S. Truman. Perhaps he idolized Truman because of his feistiness, fairly humble upbringing and disdain for formal education, which in many ways mirrored his own life. Mayor Menino, a man of the neighborhoods, received a degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston after he had been elected to the City Council; Truman is the last president not to have a college degree. Mayor Menino's hung a portrait of "Give 'em Hell, Harry" above his desk at his office in Boston City Hall.
Rest assured that Tom Menino is still giving them hell; it's just in a loftier venue.
About the HIT
The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) is a fixed-income investment company registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It manages $4.6 billion in assets for more than 360 investors, which include union and public employee pension plans. The HIT invests primarily in government and agency insured and guaranteed multifamily mortgage-backed securities. The HIT is one of the earliest and most successful practitioners of socially responsible, economically targeted investing, with a nearly 50-year track record that demonstrates the added value derived from union-friendly investments. The investment objective of the HIT is to provide competitive returns for its investors and to promote the collateral objectives of constructing affordable housing and generating employment for union members in the construction trades and related industries. Since its inception, the HIT has invested over $6.9 billion to finance more than 110,000 units of housing nationwide, generating 73,000 union jobs. More information is available on the HIT's website, www.aflcio-hit.com.
Michael K. Frisby
SOURCE AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust