Coalition petitions Walsh for low-income housing

January 17, 2014
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A coalition of 13 housing organizations and advocates, including JP-based City Life/Vida Urbana and Boston Tenant Coalition (BTC), are criticizing the City’s plan for new housing creation and are petitioning new Mayor Martin Walsh to focus on lower-income residents. Former Mayor Thomas Menino was also addressed in the accompanying letter.

The City’s current long-term plan for housing, announced by Menino in September and called “Housing Boston 2020,” calls for 30,000 new units of housing to be built by the year 2020. It also stipulates that the City allocate $11 million, created by selling public land at deep discount and initiating or expanding other programs, to benefit “Middle Income” households.

The coalition points out in its letter that no Boston median-income Black, Latino, Asian, or renter household would be able to access the proposed middle income housing programs outlined in the report.

The letter, sent last month, states, “there is a mismatch between housing need in Boston and the targeting of City resources.”

“The BTC and members hope that with the letters and petition, and further read of the data, the City will change course in the final days of the Menino administration and with the incoming Mayor Walsh administration,” the petition’s accompanying press release states.

It is currently unclear if Walsh will keep the plan, alter it or scrap it.

One of Walsh’s transition community meetings focused on housing showed a lot of support for more public and affordable housing, Walsh transition team and BTC coordinator Kathy Brown told the Gazette. The meeting was organized by the new administration and was held at English High School last week.

“It’s a major issue. We need more affordable housing resources,” Brown said.

The new mayor’s housing team will discuss the community feedback provided at that meeting for several weeks before making recommendations to Walsh, she added.

According to the coalition report, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-defined area used to measure income covers over 100 cities and towns, including very wealthy suburbs, along with the City of Boston. In addition, the HUD data only takes into account the incomes of families and excludes other households, like seniors living alone or groups of renters.

By shifting the data to reflect City of Boston-only data—and excluding Metro Boston data, which skews richer, whiter and more family-oriented—Housing Boston 2020 could better benefit Boston residents that most desperately need it, the letter says.

“We believe instead of directing resources to people whose incomes are much higher than the average Bostonian, we should direct land, cash assistance and housing units to Boston’s low, working and middle class residents using a Boston-based income scale,” the letter states.

While the letter praises the plan’s comprehensive nature in increasing linkage fees—fees paid by developers that are used to benefit the city—and tying them to inflation, developing a comprehensive strategy for student and senior housing, homeless prevention strategies and other initiatives, it also states that the coalition believes Housing Boston 2020 “could lead to the displacement of low- and moderate-income Bostonians, further gentrification and neighborhood destabilization if [issues are] not addressed.”

The City’s 2020 Boston Housing Plan advocates creating a “Middle Class Housing Access Fund” to allow middle-income buyers to buy into high-cost neighborhoods.

As stated in the City’s 2020 report, there are close to 46,000 households paying over 50 percent of their incomes for housing. Of that number, 23,000 are “extremely low-income” households or at risk of becoming homeless, with incomes 30 percent or below of the average median income of $75,500, or $22,650.

Housing should not cost more than 30 percent of a household’s income to be considered affordable.

Gazette requests for comment from Menino’s City Hall and Walsh’s administration were not returned by press time.

The petition is open to new signatures online at petitions.moveon.org/sign/petition-to-direct-inclusion. At press time, it had 228 signatories.

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