Op-Ed: Taking on our Housing Crisis

By Michelle Wu, City Councilor At-Large and Candidate for Mayor 

One of the biggest challenges the next Mayor of Boston will take on is our housing crisis.

Too many Bostonians are shut out from buying homes, dealing with soaring property taxes on a fixed income, or struggling to make rent. Many residents worry about the cost of living, so much that they aren’t sure that they can stay.

That’s reflected in the number of families being pushed out by cost of living: Though our population keeps growing, the number of school-aged children in Boston is about half what it was in 1970.

The vibrancy and long-term wellbeing of our city depends on our ability to keep our housing costs under control––not just to attract and retain new residents but also to protect and invest in the ones already here.

We cannot allow the city of Boston to be hollowed out by its lack of affordable housing options.

Our city has a proud legacy of incredible innovation. We were the first city in this country to build a public library, a public park and a taxpayer-funded public school. Yet when it comes to tackling the housing crisis and managing development in a way to build growth, affordability, community and environmental justice, we have lagged behind.

As home prices skyrocket, rents rise and disparities along racial and economic lines only increase, we need bold solutions that match the scale and urgency of the crisis.

In Boston, our leadership for housing can have immediate and far-reaching impact. Several years ago, when Airbnb was driving rents up across the city, we built a coalition to stand up and pass the most protective ordinance in the country. They sued Boston, but when we won in court, it set a national precedent so cities across the country could also protect their tenants.

This week, I am announcing a Housing Justice Agenda to expand homeownership opportunities and housing stability for low- and middle-income Bostonians, residents of color and seniors, and to address the intersection of our homelessness, substance use, and mental health crises.

As Mayor, I will expand existing city programs to increase the purchasing power of first-time homebuyers, increase property tax relief for seniors and others living on a fixed income, and leverage our capital budget to build new, permanently-affordable housing. We must take advantage of existing public assets to co-locate housing with libraries, schools and other municipal buildings to create new, multi-use developments that are deeply affordable and energy-efficient. This is a simple solution to help grow our housing stock while ensuring that units fit the environmental standards we need for a city of the future.

I will also push for greater tenant protections against eviction and displacement, and I’ll prioritize investments and improvements in the Boston Housing Authority while creating new supportive housing.

These are just some of the actions we can take to tackle displacement and make Boston a city where people of all incomes, backgrounds, professions, and ages can make a home and build community.

We will only deliver housing justice when we place our full focus and energy on opening up more housing opportunities, and listen to our residents who are dealing with this crisis every day.

But we have to act quickly. Our city is made vibrant by our neighborhoods and communities. To ensure they can thrive well into the future, we need leadership that takes on our housing crisis with the urgency it requires.

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