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Mayor budgets $6.4m in addtl. housing funds

Trea Lavery

The city of Boston has proposed an additional $6.4 million investment in housing in the fiscal year 2020 in order to combat chronic homelessness, Mayor Martin Walsh announced last week.

Of that investment, $5 million will benefit programs to create permanent supportive housing for homeless people and provide support for homeless youth. That $5 million will come from part of the city’s new short-term rental law, which will increase the Room Occupancy Excise Tax from 6 to 6.5 percent for all lodging establishments.

The additional funding represents a 45 percent increase over last year, for a total of $20.6 million in city funds devoted to housing in the 2020 operating budget.

“Housing affordability remains one of our top priorities in Boston, and I am proud that through our proposed budget we are doubling down on our efforts to create and preserve more affordable housing for residents,” Walsh said. “Over the last four years, Boston has built more income-restricted housing than in any similar period on record.”

Programs to end homelessness

The $5 million in funding for supportive housing and youth support includes $4 million devoted to creating 50 new units of permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals per year. This type of housing includes both subsidized rent and individualized support services that build independent living skills and connect formerly homeless residents with health and employment services in the community.

Since 2015, the city has permanently housed 1,636 homeless individuals, including 915 homeless veterans, according to Laila Bernstein, deputy director for the Supportive Housing Division and advisor to the mayor for the Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness.

Another $1 million will be directed toward homeless youth and young adults, on top of a $4.9 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Programs will include connections to employment, rental assistance and other supportive services, and support for early identification and outreach for homeless young people.

“On any given day on the street, we can have upwards from 300 or 400 young people who are homeless,” said Marty Martinez, chief of Health and Human Services in Boston. “If you think about chronic homelessness, we’re trying to prevent the pipeline [of] a young adult becoming an adult who is homeless.”

The homelessness budget also includes smaller investments, including $300,000 to fund four formerly-homeless people to work as peer navigators for homeless people in the city, assisting people in shelters who are experiencing chronic homelessness with housing applications and providing mentorship in their transition to finding a home.

Another $100,000 will go to an outreach program at the Boston Public Library branch in Copley Square. Launched in 2017, the program provides crisis intervention and case management for homeless individuals who use the library’s free services. The program currently has one full-time outreach worker who has 126 unique client interactions per month, on average. With the additional investment, it will expand to include social work interns and access to assistance at library branches in the South End, West End, Uphams Corner and Dudley Square.

In addition to homelessness programs, the mayor’s proposed budget includes funding for expanding affordable housing. Investments in 2020 would include expanding the city’s Additional Dwelling Units program, which provides zero-interest loans to allow owner-occupants create smaller, independent units within their homes; funding short-term rental inspectors to ensure that owners are following rules laid out in the new regulations; expanding the intergenerational homeshare program, which matches older adults who have extra rooms with younger renters who can provide daily help; hiring a court navigator for Boston Housing Court to help connect tenants with the right services and resources; and other affordable housing programs.

Transfer fees

Earlier this year, Boston city councilors proposed a transfer tax, which they said could generate as much as $350 million a year for affordable housing programs by imposing a fee on certain property sales, and at the same time would discourage property speculation in the city.

District 1 Councilor Lydia Edwards, who proposed the tax alongside District 7 Councilor Kim Janey, said that she appreciates and welcomes Walsh’s efforts to end homelessness in Boston. However, she hopes that housing programs in the future will also address gentrification and displacement of the city’s low-income residents, something that the mayor’s proposal does not.

“Housing is our communities’ first and most basic need, and increased public investment in housing is critical,” Edwards said in a statement. “As we move forward, it’s critical that we support solutions that prevent displacement and raise new revenue to tackle the housing crisis.”

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