Baker and Vega Square off on Illegal Immigrant Housing

It was supposed to be a friendly tour of a successful housing development in Chelsea for Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Baker, but headlines in the newspapers Wednesday morning concerning his stance on public housing for illegal immigrants got him an earful prior to the tour from Collaborative Director Gladys Vega.

Baker took the heated rebuke from Vega gracefully, calmly telling a cabal of reporters that he simply disagreed with Vega.

The confrontation took place just as the tour was about to begin, with Vega standing directly in front of Baker and telling him he wasn’t welcome in Chelsea.

“The audacity of him to come here to Chelsea, an immigrant city, after proposing that is incredible and insulting,” Vega told reporters – along with a few other choice phrases to boot.

“Your visit to Chelsea is demeaning to everything we stand for,” Vega told Baker as they stood face-to-face. “Your stance, your visit is not welcome. You should think about smart development of affordable housing that is for everyone in Massachusetts.”

There was no doubt, Vega was as riled as most had ever seen her, and perhaps as much as she was last summer after succeeding in the fight for extended sentencing of former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin.

Others from the Collaborative who were there also peppered Baker with questions, such as Maria Belen Powers asking him what he would do about families with mixed status such as children who are born here with parents who are here illegally.

No one got in the way of the confrontation, and Baker’s campaign staff appeared comfortable in letting it all run its course.

After Vega had said her piece, Baker told the small crowd and reporters that he just disagreed with Vega.

“We disagree,” he said. “It’s that simple. “Public housing should be available first and foremost for legal residents who have paid into the system, who have lived in the community and who are part of their community. That could be veterans and the elderly too.”

Prior to the confrontation, reporters from Boston had questions for Baker on this ideas.

One of those ideas, obviously, is giving preference on the waiting lists for public housing to legal residents and citizens, meaning that illegal immigrants would not have preference on the wait lists.

Another proposal Baker had floated Tuesday morning was to give priority on public housing wait lists to people who volunteer to sign up for self-sufficiency programs or continuing education programs – creating a pathway for them out of public housing.

“It’s about prioritizing the waiting lists for public housing and saying you don’t have to volunteer or participate in the programs, but we will give priority to those who sign up for self-sufficiency programs in the housing authorities. It’s been effective already in places like Worcester. This is already working in several areas.”

Baker in particular proposed the idea of moving back to the federal standard, which does give such preferences already.

“We need to move to the federal standard on this issue and across the board,” he said.

He also said he believed that the Legislature agrees with him and that there is an appetite for such change amongst lawmakers – but perhaps not in the current governor’s office.

“The House and Senate overwhelmingly passes legislation in both houses that would move to the federal standard and it suddenly disappeared in Conference Committee and no one knows what happened to it,” he said. “The public housing should be first for people who paid into the system, have been in the community and are part of the community.”

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