Massachusetts House passes housing bond bill

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

Affordable housing continues to be at the center of our conversations here in Boston and Brookline. We know and feel the impact of the housing crunch first hand. In many ways, we are victims of our own success – our thriving small businesses along Centre Street, our unique arts and culture scene, and beautiful parks have people flocking to our vibrant neighborhoods, but with these perks come higher costs and space limitations to present renters and owners.

The numbers back this feeling up. In 2017, Massachusetts had the 7th highest rents in the country, with Boston ranked as the 4th most costly urban area for housing. In greater Boston, nearly half of all renters are considered “cost burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. That’s 337,300 households, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

This is why the Massachusetts House of Representatives took concrete policy actions to address the affordable housing crisis by passing a bill that authorized $1.7 billion for state programs to construct and preserve affordable housing.

Building affordable housing is difficult and complex – especially as federal housing dollars become scarcer. Successful housing finance is a patchwork of state programs, grants, and partnerships. Our bill ensures that the state is able to hold up its end of the deal.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) are two particular funding sources authorized in the bill that make a direct impact. Under the bill, the AHTF is recapitalized to $400 million, and LIHTC is extended through 2025. The Commercial Area Transit Node Program (CATNP), which provides funding to encourage homeownership and rental housing in mixed-use commercial areas served by public transit, was recapitalized to $50 million. Recognizing the close link between housing and early education, we authorized $45 million for the Early Education and Out of School Time program to develop facilities for low-income children (the Nurtury Learning Lab in Bromley-Heath was made possible by this source). And this is all just a sample of the programs we authorized in the legislation.

Beyond the spreadsheets and the alphabet soup of acronyms, this bill is about providing people a stable place to call home. Through partnerships with local nonprofits and community development corporations, we’ve been able to leverage state bond funds to construct viable affordable housing in Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, Boston, Brookline, and beyond.

The María Sánchez House in Mission Hill, which features 40 affordable units for seniors, was developed by Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services (MHNHS) using AHTF funds as well as Low Income Housing Tax Credits. MHNHS utilized AHTF and CATNP funds for the construction of Parcel 25 Phase 1A, which brought an additional 40 units of affordable housing to Mission Hill, and plans to use those same sources as it completes Phases 2 and 3.

I have been proud to work with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), Urban Edge, and The Community Builders to bring Jackson Square back to life. Our combined work has yielded 444 units of housing in 10 different developments, with plans for an additional 606 in the works and 832 to be rehabbed. From the Julia Martin house and Doña Betsaida Gutierrez Co-op to 225 Centre Street and Jackson Commons, we have created homes for people to live and thrive in our neighborhood, regardless of their race, language, age, or ability. The affordable housing programs authorized in our bill made these projects possible, and our work ensures that dollars, jobs, and new businesses can continue to flow into our neighborhood.

We are able to accomplish so much because of the funds captured through the Community Investment Tax Credit – a 50 percent tax credit for individuals who donate to community development corporations, which is extended through 2025 in our bill.

Building shiny, new buildings is only one prong in our approach to solving our housing crisis. The other is preserving and maintaining affordable units we’ve already built, which is just as important. Our housing bond bill authorizes $125 million to preserve and improve existing affordable rental developments at risk of losing affordability restrictions. It includes an additional $600M to rehabilitate and modernize public housing, which will be crucial as we look toward the redevelopment of Bromley-Heath.

Overall, these programs have and will be a great step forward in creating affordable housing across Massachusetts, so residents can stay in their neighborhoods and continue to thrive in the communities they love. It is vital for neighbors and residents to continue to stay involved in the conversation. Our collective commitment and community vision made affordable housing a reality at Parcel 25, Jackson Square, and beyond. Involvement in the process cannot be underestimated in our efforts to ensure every person has a place to call home.

This is just a small sample of what these housing programs have been able to accomplish. For a full, comprehensive list of programs funded in the housing bond bill, visit www.jeffreysanchez.org/housingbondbill.

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Compassion, dignity and hope in Boston

By Mayor Martin Walsh

Too many of us are tied to the opioid crisis, whether we are struggling ourselves, or we see and experience the struggle right alongside our coworkers, friends, and family. This is an epidemic and no one — no matter where you live, your education, your job, your income — is immune. That’s why it’s so important that we rally together as a city to support each other and rebuild the Long Island Bridge.

Long Island once played a prominent role in Boston’s recovery landscape and it will once again. This year we will launch the process of rebuilding Long Island Bridge in order to create, on the Island, the comprehensive, long-term addiction recovery campus that our city and region have never had before.

You don’t overcome addiction by sticking to the same routine and living out each day in the same environment. Yes, increasing detox beds is important and is a start, but that is the first of many steps. Addiction recovery requires sustained, supported, evidence-based treatment and care, from a range of providers and allies working in sync.

We have a unique opportunity to build the Island into a premier recovery continuum campus where individuals can grow stable in their recovery. We will provide a continuum of care — from harm reduction, to detox, to residential treatment, to transitional housing and ongoing peer support. The Island provides an environment to establish this programming and structure. We need to give those suffering — wherever they are on their journey to recovery — the opportunity to rebuild a life. This means offering them mentorship, job training, housing resources, access to doctors and therapists, and more.

In 2014, for the safety of our most vulnerable residents, we were forced to close the 63-year-old bridge before it crumbled into Boston Harbor. In the months that followed, we quickly built a new shelter in Boston and we found new sites for the public and nonprofit programs that were housed on the Island. While they no doubt intersect at times, homelessness and the opioid crisis are different issues. As matters of public health and public policy, each requires its own comprehensive response. So while we’ve decided the homeless need to move into shelter programs integrated in our communities, the “escape” of Long Island is beneficial for those with substance abuse disorders and in recovery.

Our region needs more residential treatment beds for those coming out of detox and supportive housing for those coming out of treatment. Too many people relapse because a solid next step is not there for them in time. And too much provider energy is devoted to the struggle to help clients find their next placement. We need more treatment beds and more transitional housing. And we need to weave together more seamlessly the “continuum of care” — from detox, to residential treatment, to sober housing and social supports — that it takes to reclaim your life.

That’s the purpose of the new campus we envision. It will increase and balance capacity across each phase of treatment at a scale not possible in a neighborhood setting. It will provide a peaceful place for long-term treatment, supports, and transitions, especially helpful for those who need time away from familiar places and faces. And it will also act as a clearinghouse for available placements along the continuum, across the region. In short, it will be the hub that Greater Boston’s recovery universe has long lacked.

The positive impact of a recovery campus will reverberate through our region. It will take those suffering from substance disorders off the streets, not only of Boston but also of Quincy and all our neighboring cities and towns. More important, it will help them return to their families and communities more whole and better equipped to continue rebuilding their lives.

Planning, permitting, and building a new bridge will take time — four years at a minimum. But we are determined. We have funding in our capital budget, we expect to have $30 million available from our Parking Meter Fund, and we will work creatively and collaboratively to meet any additional costs. In the meantime, we’ll plan the campus by working even more closely with the devoted providers, nonprofits, and public agencies who are engaged in the fight against addiction.

As I said before, nobody is immune from this epidemic. Addiction can so easily come from simply medicating ourselves or our family after wisdom teeth are taken out, a broken bone from a game of softball, a slip on the ice walking into work — everyone is vulnerable. Everyone needs to show compassion for those facing addiction. Everyone deserves dignity and hope. Let our city be the one to give it to them and stand with them as they rebuild the life they deserve.


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