The Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston, a group of residents and community organizations who are calling on Mayor Walsh to strengthen the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP), held a virtual speak-out on December 9 where members explained the current ID) policy and what they would like to see changed. Jaya Ajyer, a Community Organizer at the Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) explained that the city’s current IDP includes a rule that developers must provide 13 percent affordable housing in new buildings, but “we know that 13 percent is not enough,” she said. “This 13 percent is supposed to go toward units in the building to be affordable, or it can go to external affordable development or job training.”
She also said that “we know now that affordable is not really affordable,” and many of these units are “out of reach” for Black and Indigenous people of color and households without housing vouchers. The City of Boston uses Area Median Income (AMI) as a measure for defining affordability, she said, but the AMI for Boston “incorporates incomes from cities beyond Boston, including wealthy neighborhoods and towns like Newton, Wellesley, Weston, and even parts of New Hampshire,” she said.
She added that a typical income level for Boston is about 50% of the AMI. Right now, the IDP is for 70 percent AMI, which amounts to one person making about $55,000 a year or less, or a household or family of four making $79,000 or less. “What many residents in Boston actually make is about 30 percent AMI,” Ajyer said, which is one person making $23,000 a year or less or a household or family of four making about $34,000 a year or less. “The City has stopped the update for IDP, yet there are pandemics of all sorts hitting us,” she said, including systemic racism and others.
“These all make the need for affordable housing even greater,” she said. Sam Montano from the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) went through the coalition’s requested changes, and said that the coalition is demanding that the City increase the IDP from 13 percent to 33 percent by the end of next month. She added that this is a conversation with the City that has been happening for years. “We would like to make sure that IDP units being developed are actually affordable to folks in Boston,” Montano said.
She said that there should be a “deepening” of the IDP income levels to an AMI range of 20-70 percent for rentals, and about 50 to 100 percent AMI for home ownership. She also said that the current nine unit trigger to include affordable units should be lowered so that buildings with fewer than nine units will have IDP units as well. She said the group has been “pressuring the city,” and is urging residents to make phone calls and post on social media to spread the word.
“Affordable housing is a key pillar of strong communities in the city, particularly in a neighborhood like the Fenway where we have such a transient population due to the many colleges and universities in the area.,” said Fenway resident Sarah Jenness. “Affordable housing is also a racial justice issue, particularly in the city of Boston where we know there is a huge racial wealth gap between white families and black families. I hope to see more affordable housing in my neighborhood, because I believe affordable housing allows neighborhoods to become stronger. “ Chinatown resident Tian Yin Zhang said via a translator that he and his wife have been in the US “for several years,” and have had a lot of trouble finding a stable place to live.
They both worked in the restaurant business, but Zhang was forced to retire after an illness, and his wife has recently lost her income due to the pandemic. He said that they have applied for both elderly and public housing, but were turned away because their income was too low. He said he would like to see more help for folks like him. Karen Chen, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, said that even before the pandemic, one of the City’s top issues was housing, and “during recovery, it’s going to continue to be the top issue.”
She said a question at hand is finding a way to ensure that affordable housing created in the city “reflects the need of the community.” Chen added, “We need to have a stronger requirement so that working families have a fair game in the City of Boston.” Chen also said that the state needs to work with the city to pass Bill H.4115 that “provides increased affordable housing, job training, and autonomy to Boston,” she said. “We really need our state legislators in the Boston delegation to call on the state to pass this bill.” She said this bill “gives the city the ability to work with the residents to find solutions to the housing need that is so critical and that is so urgent.” City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu told reporters at a press conference on December 11 that “I support efforts to make sure that our development and private development aligns with our community needs and affordable housing.”
She also said that when IDP units are included in a larger development, they need to be “dispersed throughout the building as opposed to segregating them.” She added, though, that “there are ways to improve and strengthen that program, however, IDP will never be the solution to our affordable housing crisis,” as “we will not get to the scale and the level of affordability that matches what residents actually need.” Instead, she said that “generating resources at a target scale for affordable housing” is what needs to be focused on.
“The public sector has an obligation to be proactive and be creative about how we could be aligning our efforts with needs in the community,” Wu said. The Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston, put out three “action items” for residents to participate in, which includes signing a petition to make the changes to the IDP, posting on social media, and calling Mayor Walsh and Boston Planning and Development Agency Director Brian Golden. For more information about the coalition and their mission visit affordableboston.org.