Boston’s total population has increased by 9.4 percent since 2010, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. That’s a big transformation and one that makes sense as our city continues to become an increasingly welcoming place for people to live and work. As a lifelong resident of Boston, this city has given me so much. Everyone who wants to call Boston home, too, deserves the chance to have that same experience – but we have a lot of work to do to get there.
This pandemic has highlighted the fragility of Boston’s housing market. Many residents are struggling to pay rent, families can’t pay their mortgage or find stable housing and our homelessness crisis continues in nearly every corner of our city. There’s plenty of room for improvement and that change can begin at City Hall, directly in the mayor’s office. By updating processes, investing in our existing programs and truly prioritizing affordable housing, the next mayor can ensure our housing stock will meet the demands of both current and future residents.
As we increase Boston’s housing stock, we need to make sure that what we’re building is actually affordable. Often overlooked is the large gap of housing for the many residents and families that don’t qualify for subsidized housing, but still cannot afford to pay market rate. A lack of options here is giving low to middle income families no choice but to leave the city.
Boston’s decades-old zoning code must be updated and streamlined in order to better align with our housing needs. This includes implementing an expedited zoning approval process for projects that are centered around increased affordability, so they aren’t caught up in bureaucratic decisions or red tape. Additionally, it’s time we really explore amending and updating the area median income (AMI) standards so they better reflect the income of our residents, not those living outside of the city.
Conversation on Deeper Affordability Needed
With Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab, we have some of the best and brightest ideas for solving our housing crisis. We need to prioritize a mix of units that reflect the realities of Boston residents. Among others, we need to build with our residents, workforce, seniors, residents with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQIA+ in mind. As mayor, I will re-invigorate the Housing Innovation Lab to bring these ideas to scale, encourage cross-industry collaboration and center the needs of residents at the center of our approach to housing.
Finally, if we want our city to grow and thrive in a way that’s sustainable, we need to create better pathways for affordable homeownership, especially for Boston’s historically underserved populations and communities. We need to make sure our investments in affordable rental units and homeownership units are aligned. Many of the residents in our city-funded rental units are paying about 70 percent of AMI, which equates to $1,400 a month for a one bedroom unit. In many instances, that would equate to a monthly mortgage payment, so we must ensure that homeownership is accessible and residents are aware of the city tools and resources that are at their disposal when exploring housing options.
I’ll also continue to invest in our down payment assistance programs for both first-time and first-generation home buyers. I’ve already committed to doubling the city’s existing commitment of $325,000 to the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance STASH program and laying the groundwork to reach a $1 million investment on Day One of my administration. In order to increase long term stability in our housing market, it is important to create more permanent pathways to homeownership and to the generational wealth that comes from owning a home.
Boston is an incredible place to live, work and, most of all, call home. If we want that to continue, we must make our city a place where everyone can afford to live. As mayor, I’ll increase our housing stock, and do so in a way that’s intentional, thoughtful and equitable, so that our growth reaches every neighborhood.
Annissa Essaibi George is an at-large Boston city councilor and a candidate for mayor.