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Boise mayor: economy is growing, but 'we have to recognize that people are struggling'

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is nearing the end of her second year as Mayor, she is reflecting on ups and downs from 2021.

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is nearing the end of her second full year in office. The first year of her term, 2020, proved to be a challenging year for the city, state, nation and world with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through it all though, McLean said she is proud of how the city balanced a health emergency while also pushing forward on initiatives like addressing the growing housing crisis in Boise.

For perspective, KTVB sat down with Mayor McLean for her thoughts on 2021 and moving forward. Below is a transcript of the interview between Mayor McLean and reporter Joe Parris 

JOE: I spoke about a year ago about your first full year as mayor and I mean, 2020 That's a heck of a year to run it back in 2021. You know, to me as an observer, it looked like it was just as challenging. Do you think 2021 is as challenging for you as 2020?

MAYOR: It was, it was as challenging for our community as 2020 was to be honest. We are in this together, and we are getting through it together and we will be stronger as a community because of the challenges we face. Because, time and time again Boiseans have demonstrated that they want to partner with me to protect what we love about this place. And that's the people and this great community that we live in.

JOE: Something that you've been passionate about is the environment and taking care of our climate. Of course, the President Biden was here a few months ago and you got to speak with him as he was in town to evaluate wildfires in the West. To you as a mayor, why do you think the climate is such a big topic of conversation? There's a lot of mayors that say, it's too big for our city to take on. We're going to take on what we can control

MAYOR: Boiseans have been clear, they want us to lead on climate and the buck stops here. Really, we can't keep passing the buck to somebody else. So, this is about people. It's about our health. And it's about jobs of the future, making sure that our community remains vibrant, that our kids and grandkids have access to clean water, healthy air, and importantly jobs that will be necessary to build the lives here that we all want them to be able to build. And so yes, climate innovation is really important to me because in our transition to clean energy will need to innovate and that innovation will create opportunity for our residents.

JOE: The economy in Boise, I hear two very loud conversations over the last year: you have the group of people that say I lost my business, COVID restrictions and COVID as a whole forced us to go out of business, I'm now out of a job. At the same time, the city of Boise is growing explosively. The economy, of late, appears to be awesome in downtown, here at the end of the year. For you, how do you reconcile the difference between the people that had arguably the toughest year of their life losing their business, and then people who are newcomers who are now thriving in our community?

MAYOR: That's the paradox of COVID, that we as a community have struggled, and we're coming through it with a strong economy and a much more tightly knit community -- and because we did this together. But, the struggles that residents had are real, and while our economy is growing, we have to recognize that people are struggling. And so because of that we've done everything we can to take advantage of the COVID dollars ARP (American Rescue Plan) dollars will direct back into the community to support those residents, businesses artists in their needs, because the needs are real.

JOE: Major conversation in our community, people facing homelessness and battling through it. With interfaith sanctuary moving there's been a massive conversation: where do you put it? Of course, you know, there's a lot of public hearings and a lot of conversations about moving it to State Street. For you: how do you navigate this conversation? Because no matter where you want to move interfaith, there's going to be a lot of community conversation. It seems like a can't win situation?

MAYOR: We, as a community, have shown time and again that we want to support those folks in our community. And so, as a city, we prioritize the housing first philosophy we've made investments in permanent supportive housing, I announced during the state of the city the next development that will do in conjunction with New Path. But we have to recognize too, there's a deep need for an emergency overnight shelter. And it's important as a community to have a respectful conversation to recognize the importance of having a roof over the heads of Boiseans every night and do all that we can to make sure that that happens. At the same time recognizing that the best way to address homelessness is to prevent it. And so, in partnership with Jesse Tree and CATCH and other organizations, we've worked and helped nearly 2000 residents with rental assistance since the spring and we're now in a second round of funding. We're using Ada County funding and we've asked the federal government for state funding that wasn't spent by the state to support Boiseans and we are working to prevent evictions with Jesse Tree and at the same time working through Our Path Home to ensure that there's emergency shelter.

JOE: For the second year in a row there's anti-Semitic graffiti near the Anne Frank Memorial during Hanukkah. This happens again, and it's happened previously. We saw swastikas on the statue of Anne Frank. As a leader of the city, how do you, I guess, address these continued circumstances? Because at this point, it's not just a one off.

MAYOR: “We as a city, as a state, and a country are seeing a rise in extremism. And the graffiti that was put on the tunnel along the Greenbelt is both a literal as well as figurative stain on our community. A reminder again, of this rise in extremism and the hate that exists, and we cannot and will not tolerate it. And we need to see business leaders, community leaders, political leaders, and throughout this region and state stand together with our Jewish neighbors and together with our community and make clear that we won't tolerate it. Not only will we denounce it, but we will ask people to join hands and take steps to curb this rise of extremism to protect our community because it's worth fighting for.”

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