By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
At-Large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George last month filed for a hearing order to determine strategies for streamlining the process to apply for affordable housing.
“I’ve been working on this issue now for the last 14 months and the most important solution to homelessness is housing,” said Essaibi-George at the meeting. “We have to make it easier for people to access housing.”
The matter was sent to the Committee on Housing and Community Development. According to the Boston 2030 Housing Plan 3rd Quarter Report of 2016, there are currently 18,786 affordable housing units permitted or completed and 21,270 units of affordable housing in the City’s development pipeline.
In addition, the City is on pace to create 1,500 new units for extremely low-income households.
In Mayor Martin Walsh’s housing plan, he has outlined the creation of 53,000 new units of affordable housing by 2030. This includes workforce units, affordable units and senior housing.
The City’s affordable-housing policy also leverages new affordable housing through private development, as well as expands the City’s resources to develop additional affordable housing.
Access to affordable housing is currently managed through multiple City agencies, including the Boston Planning and Development Agency, Department of Neighborhood Development, and the Boston Housing Authority.
Private developers, nonprofit community development corporations, and management companies also play a role in creating access to affordable housing.
“If you can picture a woven web or tangled gate of regulations tape, you’ll see a great challenge,” said Essaibi-George. “This tangled web discourages people from even trying to access affordable housing units.”
Essaibi-George said that there is a need to make one central place that is easy to access. Once the red tape is opened up, she said, it would make it easier for people who want to stay in the city of Boston to do so.
At-Large City Councilor Michael Flaherty said that many people across the city believe that in order to access affordable housing it is based solely off of a name lottery but that’s really not how it works.
Flaherty said there is a lot of paperwork that still needs to be filled out and that some of it can be very daunting, especially to those who have credit issues or have issues with a spouse just passing away.
“It is particularly intimidating for our elderly population when they start to sit down and start to fill out paperwork and disclose things that they are very sensitive to,” said Flaherty. “To have someone there and hold your hand and get you through the process I think will go a long a way.”
Flaherty said that despite the increase in affordable units and the large streamline of applications coming in, he doesn’t hear very many people in his community taking advantage of them.
Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents a portion of Egleston Square, noted that there is a problem in the way that the system works.
“I’ve talked to small developers who have the hardest time actually getting people in these units,” said Jackson. “I have a couple in my district that are still empty because the process is so cumbersome for someone who doesn’t have a whole agency that does this but has one or two units.”
Jackson brought up the question on what is affordable. He said that a lot of the units are 70 percent area median income, which is about $65,000 to $75,000, but 50 percent of the people of Boston make $35,000 or less.
“It’s about time that we have all of these agencies come in and have this conversation and figure out how to do it right,” said Jackson.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who represents parts of Forest Hills and Woodbourne, said that she has residents in her district that own two family homes and are trying to work with the Boston Housing Authority to get families that are in need into a unit in their home. But due to the numerous inspections and paperwork that needs to be done, many are giving up on the task.
Campbell said, “I think there’s multiple people in our community now who want to provide actual affordable units to their neighbors and folks in the community who are just frankly throwing their hands up because they are frustrated by the process.”