DND Chief: City has many affordable-housing units, but more needed

November 23, 2018
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The City recently released a report on Boston’s income-restricted housing—commonly referred to as affordable housing—that found nearly 20 percent of housing units are marked as income-restricted.

But Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) Director Sheila Dillon said that is not enough.

“We have a lot of affordable-housing units. We need more and we are going to build them,” said Dillon in a phone interview with the Gazette.

The report found that out of 282,986 housing units in the city, 54,247 units are income-restricted. The report defines an income-restricted unit as having “a rent capped at an affordable price for a household whose income qualifies.” Of the total stock, 27 percent are affordable-housing rentals (51,702 units), while only 3 percent (2,545 units) are home ownership.

According to the report, 66 percent of income-restricted units are restricted to households earning less than 50 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), or $43,150 for a two-person household, and 20,746 units or 38 percent, are restricted for households making between 31-50 percent of AMI, which ranges from $25,900 to $43,000 for a two-person household.

In Jamaica Plain, there are 19,348 housing units, with 25 percent, or 4,873 units, marked as affordable. Of the total JP housing units, 66 percent are rentals with 35 percent deemed as affordable, while 32 percent is home ownership with 4 percent marked as affordable.

Dillon said that before the study, the City knew the general numbers, but not the level specificity. She said what surprised her from the report was that when looking at rental units, 27 percent, or nearly one-third, of the total units in the City were deeded below market rate.

“That’s good news to us,” said Dillon.

The report also shows that there is a wide disparity on the percentage of affordable-housing units each neighborhood has. Roxbury and South End/Lower Roxbury have the highest percentages in the city, with 45 percent and 48 percent, respectively, while West Roxbury and Back Bay/Beacon Hill have the lowest, with 3 percent and 7 percent, respectively.  

Asked about those disparities, Dillon said there are many causes and other people are more knowledgeable about the history of those causes, but some reasons include where nonprofits that build affordable housing are located and where the City has had land opportunities.

“But I am concerned that some neighborhoods have such low numbers,” she said.  

Dillon said that that disparity can be changed through conversations with neighborhood groups, finding out where they want affordable housing and looking for opportunities to build that type of housing.

“Affordable housing just doesn’t happen. You have to be intentional about it,” she said.

Dillon added that the City has had a lot of affordable housing “come on line in central Boston through the IDP program.” The Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP), also known as the affordable-housing policy, requires developments with 10 or more units that need zoning relief or are on City-owned land to have 15 percent of market-rate units, or 13 percent of the total units, be affordable. Developers also have the option to build the affordable units off-site or pay into the City’s affordable-housing fund. Dillon said that central Boston has had the highest number of affordable-housing units built in the city since 2011.

“A lot of people downtown want income-diverse neighborhoods,” she said.

Dillon said that the report was a “massive research project” that was funded by DND and that took “well over a year.” She said that it looked at all the deed-restricted housing in the city and found the affordability level.

“We monitor many of these units, but some were built decades ago,” said Dillon.

Asked about how the report came about, she replied that during conversations with residents and at community meetings, City officials constantly heard questions about where is the affordable housing in Boston and who is it affordable to.

“We would just give general answers,” said Dillon. “We knew we needed to catalogue exactly where and what is affordable.”

The report provides a “collective resource” for residents of the city to look at affordable-housing units, according to Dillon.

Asked about the disparity between affordable rental and affordable ownership units, she replied that while the City has been putting out a lot of land for home ownership, there are few funding resources at the state and federal level.

“We are still dedicated to it, but less resources means fewer home-ownership opportunities,” said Dillon.  

She said that a lot of neighborhoods, such as Hyde Park, Allston-Brighton, and Jamaica Plain, accept the rentals, but want home ownership so people can earn equity and plant roots in the area.

The City recently increased its target number for new affordable-housing units built by 2030 and if it hits that target, Boston will have 70,000 affordable-housing units.

“That is a very significant number,” said Dillon.  

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