Op-Ed: Solving the affordability and displacement crisis

By Danielle Sommer and Mike Prokosch

Housing costs a lot in Boston. It’s getting harder to find a home you can rent or own. And people of color are being pushed outside of the city, increasing segregation across the state.

If we don’t take a stand now, not only will people be displaced today, but the crisis will get worse. Protecting affordability, especially for lower-income households, helps stabilize costs for everyone. Otherwise, as lower-income residents are displaced, moderate-income residents will increasingly become priced out as well.

So community organizations decided to ask: What new housing is being built? Some striking facts emerged.

Half of Boston households make $55,000 or less a year. Households of color and renters, who are both majorities in Boston, make even less. About 9 percent of housing built from January 2011 to June 2017, or 1,975 out of 21,955 units, is affordable at these income levels. For households most in need, making less than $25,000, 2.9 percent of new housing (636 units) is affordable.

The City also currently defines affordability based on incomes up to $125,000, including units with $2000-3000/month rents. At these income levels, another 9.5 percent of new housing is income-restricted. Another 22.0 percent is market-rate but considered affordable.

So, depending on who you’re talking about, 2.9 percent to 40.5 percent of new housing is affordable. Visit bit.ly/2y0cA7o to analyze the data yourself.

We must look at these results now and in the future, including their impact based on race. People of color on average, especially Black and Latino people, have less income and wealth than white people. City policies, even when apparently race-neutral or well-intended, can widen racial disparities; instead, we must ensure that policies promote racial equity.

What are the mayoral candidates proposing to do?

To find out, 11 community organizations sent a questionnaire to Mayor Marty Walsh and Councilor Tito Jackson. We asked where they stand on housing for lower-income residents, neighborhood stabilization, and community control of development.

Walsh and Jackson agreed broadly on some points. Both said it’s important to increase the City’s housing goals for households that make less than $25,000 annually. Both pledged to reexamine the Inclusionary Development Policy, which requires developers to include affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund. Both said they support community land trusts, affordable home ownership, and reducing homelessness.

Their specific commitments differ, however. So do their positions on affordable housing funding; affordability standards on City-owned land; the Boston Planning and Development Agency; and increasing community control over development. You can see their full responses at bit.ly/2xYC8ql.

The better informed we are, the better we can ensure our elected leaders get housing policies right – policies that will determine who’s living in Boston in ten years. Do we want to protect our diversity and build current residents’ wealth, or do we want less diverse communities that prioritize wealthier newcomers? We need to know the facts. We need to know the candidates’ positions. And together, we – and the next mayor – need to solve the crises of affordability and displacement.

Danielle Sommer is a member of Keep It 100 of Real Affordable Housing and Racial Justice, and Mike Prokosch is a member of Dorchester People for Peace.

Op-Ed: How we’re bringing Bostonians of different generations together under one roof

By Mayor Martin Walsh

Every year, more and more people are calling Boston home. Our population is growing: we’re expected to surpass 700,000 residents before 2030, which are numbers we haven’t seen in decades. This growth means that housing is in high demand.

In 2014, we released our housing plan. It’s a roadmap to help us keep up with demand by creating 53,000 new units by 2030. We’ve made tremendous progress already. Since 2014, more than 13,000 new units of housing have been created, with an additional 8,400 under construction. In addition to building more housing, we’re finding creative new ways to address this challenge.

We know that our population isn’t only growing — it’s also evolving. Household sizes are smaller, and the definition of a household is changing. Priorities are also shifting. People are working from home more often. They are more interested in sharing spaces and items more frequently. All of these changes mean that the housing stock that was built for Boston’s population in the 1950s no longer meets our needs. We need to expand options in our housing stock and meet the needs of today’s Boston.

One such option is the Intergenerational Homeshare Pilot. Together with the Boston Commission on the Affairs of the Elderly, our Housing Innovation Lab, and Nesterly, we are creating solutions for one of our city’s largest populations, graduate students; and our fastest-growing population, seniors.

The program will match older homeowners who have a spare bedroom, with graduate students who are seeking an affordable place to stay. Homeowners will get assistance with house maintenance, students will get discounted rent, and both of them gain new opportunities to engage with the local community. It is our hope that this innovative housing pilot will provide more affordable housing options for all who participate.

Already, we’re seeing the demand for this type of housing option. We’re also seeing results. To date, we’ve made eight matches between homeowners and graduate students, and we’ve received more than 80 applications. And we’re getting positive feedback so far. One of our first participants in the program described herself as an empty-nester whose new student brings a lively and pleasant presence into her home. They are cooking dinner together, and learning from one another. This pilot not only helps us solve housing needs in our city, but it also brings together different generations in a new and meaningful way.

We will continue to find new ways to serve the needs of Boston’s current and future residents. We will keep pioneering innovative housing models, and we will accelerate the pace of innovation in the housing sector. Throughout all of our work, we will bring the spirit of exploration and experimentation to one of the most important issues facing our city: ensuring everyone has a place to call home.

To learn more about the pilot program, please visit: www.nesterly.io.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.