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Mayor Walsh investing in affordable housing

Increased commitment comes as many decry affordability crisis

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO

Mayor Martin Walsh is proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending on affordable housing over the next five years, officials in his administration said during a press briefing in advance of the mayor’s annual State of the City address.

The increased spending will include $100 million in new operating and capital funds, hundreds of millions from the proposed real estate transfer tax and tens of millions from the sale of the city-owned Lafayette Place underground parking facility, all of which would be used to create and preserve low-income housing.

City officials estimate that the new revenue and the commitment to up the largest portion of the city budget by $20 million a year will amount to $500 million over five years.

Emme Handy, chief financial officer for the city, said the new investment represents “a doubling of our investments in capital and operating funds over the next five years.”

Sheila Dillon, chief of housing in the Walsh administration, said, “In all of my 25 years working in the affordable housing industry, I’ve never seen a commitment of this size, this magnitude, this level of investment, from a city this size. This shows this administration’s commitment to making sure people are safely housed.”

The rollout of the planned investments comes as affordable housing advocates say the city is in the midst of a displacement crisis, where rents and housing costs are unaffordable to most current Boston residents. The city’s housing issues figured prominently in last year’s City Council race, with a majority of winning candidates and incumbents on record as being in support of reinstituting rent control in Boston — a policy Walsh says he opposes.

The major components of the mayor’s plan include commitments on a range of initiatives including:

  • Construction of new affordable elderly housing and renovation of existing units.
  • Expansion of the Acquisition Opportunity Program, through which nonprofits receive city funds to purchase apartment buildings, which are then made permanently affordable. Acquisition of existing units is less costly than the construction of new affordable housing.
  • Enhanced financial assistance for first-time homebuyers, including down payment assistance and low-interest mortgages.
  • A pilot project creating city-funded rental vouchers. The vouchers, which could be mobile or project-based, would be prioritized to those most in need, including homeless families and low-income elderly and disabled households.
  • A new fund drawing on business and foundation investment for the creation of low- and moderate-income housing.

 

Walsh’s housing plan, Boston 2030, was launched in 2014 and calls for the creation of 69,000 new units of housing by 2030, 20 percent of which are to be affordable to people earning as much as 100 percent of the Greater Boston area median income, which is $79,390 for an individual.

To date, 32,000 total units of housing have been permitted or built, with 6,200 of that number created for low- and moderate-income households. The city has created more than 500 new units of elderly housing and has renovated or replaced more than 1,000 units of public housing, with another 3,500 renovations or replacements in the pipeline.

The city has also provided more than 600 households with down payment and closing cost assistance to purchase homes.

“The mayor is hearing that people want to buy in Boston, but they’re not able to because of sales prices,” Dillon said. “We are seeing stabilization in the market, but many middle-income families really do need help buying. This is our best thinking right now. We have looked at what we have money for, what we would like to enhance and increase. These are new initiatives that we think would help … thousands of households.”

Dillon acknowledged that even with strong new initiatives, there will be more to do.

“We’ve been working very hard, but there’s never enough, given the need,” she said.

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