Boston still rated as unaffordable
In the wake of Mayor Martin Walsh’s re-election to a second term, discussions on Boston’s housing issues continue to reverberate across the city among residents and housing advocates in a highly inflated real estate market.
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In a study of North American housing markets released last week, the website Point2Homes pegged Boston as one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., behind San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
It’s no surprise, then, that housing was a hotly debated topic during the 2017 race between the incumbent mayor and his rival, District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson. Jackson challenged Walsh on his current policies, saying they weren’t enough to prevent displacement of lower- and middle-income Bostonians.
In 2014, the Walsh administration established a production goal of 53,000 housing units built or preserved by 2030 as a way to keep up with population growth, stabilize home prices and keep low- and middle-income residents in the city .
So far, the city is well on its way to reaching the production goal, with a total of 40,500 units built or underway — 76 percent of the 2030 target — according to data shown in the city’s 2016 third-quarter report.
However, this production target may not be enough to meet future demand. The Boston Planning and Development Agency’s research division published a 2016 report predicting Boston’s population in 2030 will be 723,500 — that’s 14,500 more residents than the Walsh administration had projected when it devised the housing plan.
This population projection is a rough estimate; factors such as job creation might affect the number of people living in Boston in 2030. Even so, despite the 22,000 new affordable units permitted so far, according to numbers Walsh cited during the campaign, affordability is still a far reach for many who already live in Boston.
“We have a crisis, where we need housing now for the existing people here,” said Darnell Johnson, regional coordinator of Right to the City Boston, a grassroots, multi-organizational alliance representing people of color, low-income and immigrant communities. “I think the mayor’s plan addresses the influx [of people] he expects, but it really doesn’t tackle what’s needed in the community.”
Among the new affordable units permitted in Boston, 369 are set aside for homeless individuals and families, 1,691 units are for under 60 percent of the AMI, and 6,926 units are for those earning 60–120 percent AMI, according to the city’s 2017 second-quarter report.
According to The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2016, a housing study published by The Boston Foundation, the number of permits issued might decrease over time, now that “the market for luxury housing is now nearly saturated” and “developers have not found a way to build affordable housing for working families.”
Between 1996 and 2003, 40 percent of new units permitted were affordable. From 2004 to 2010, that percentage decreased to less than 26 percent. And most recently, from 2011 to 2016, that number went down to 18 percent, says the 2016 housing report card. “Once again, this points to the extreme difficulty of profitably building housing units that can be sold or rented at affordable prices,” the report says.
In order to prevent profitability from being the only deciding factor for developers in the city, community development programs and policies are crucial.
Johnson said that there should be more accountability for developers who scoop up large parcels of property, with the city either increasing the amount of affordable units required or mandating a larger contribution to a fund the city can use towards affordable housing .
Currently, the required percentage of affordable units in new developments is 13 percent.
During his mayoral campaign, Jackson said he would raise it to 25 percent. He also called for housing developed on public land to be one-third low-income, one-third moderate-income and one-third market-rate.
There are glimmers of hope in our current city housing landscape, Johnson said, such as the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, which city councilors passed with a 10-to-three vote in October. Also known as Just Cause Eviction, the act requires property owners of seven or more units to notify the city if they plan to evict a tenant, and to inform their tenants of their rights. It also will put in place a system for the city to keep track of evictions or lease non-renewals.
“Once enacted, we think it will make a difference. It will signal to large corporations that they have to report their activities, where before they didn’t have to,” said Johnson. “Anytime you can inform the community about their rights, the more likely it is for them to exercise those rights.”
Moving forward with affordable housing, Johnson said, “We hope that the mayor strengthens ties with the community and has a true community process that identifies solutions to work on together.”