Housing is a human right. Safe, healthy, affordable housing is the necessary foundation for thriving families and communities. Yet in Boston, a stable home has become a luxury not everyone can afford. Only about one-third of Boston residents own their own home, and half of Boston’s renters are rent-burdened. As COVID-19 devastated communities already struggling with displacement and rising rents, tens of thousands of Boston families are at risk.
At the city level, Boston has the power to meet this moment and dismantle the legacy of systemic racism in our racial wealth gap and displacement crisis. We must take bold action:
Prioritize Federal Funds for Housing
Boston stands to receive $500 million from the federal government from the American Rescue Plan (ARP)—funds that must be spent by 2025. In order to have the greatest impact, it’s critical we deploy these funds quickly and equitably. As Mayor, I’ll act immediately to address the housing crisis by making housing the central focus of ARP spending:
Dedicate $200 million in ARP funds towards programs that prevent displacement, expand access to homeownership, support community land trusts, fund capital repairs to Boston’s public housing, and build new, deeply-affordable, energy-efficient housing.
Work with Boston’s state delegation to match additional funds for projects of shared interest, such as state-subsidized public housing, transportation grants that enable smarter development, and broadband improvements for affordable housing.
Stabilize Residents and Prevent Displacement
Half of Boston’s renter households pay more than 30% of their income toward rent, increasing vulnerability to displacement—particularly in Black and brown neighborhoods, home to a disproportionate number of eviction filings, even after controlling for median household income. Boston’s rental subsidy and relief programs are intended to keep residents in their homes, but as it stands, they lack the funding and accessibility to meet the scale of our housing affordability crisis. We need urgent action to keep renters in their homes:
Lift the ban on rent stabilization by working with advocates across the state, neighboring municipalities, and, if necessary, bringing rent stabilization back to the ballot.
Dedicate at least $10 million annually to City rental subsidies.
Coordinate city voucher awards with investments by the Neighborhood Housing Trust to streamline project applications for developers and increase support for new affordable and mixed-income housing.
Review all existing inclusionary development units restricted above 50% of the area median income (AMI) and engage owners to participate in voucher programs.
Direct the Boston Home Center and Office of Financial Empowerment to establish new partnerships with the Boston Housing Authority, promoting asset building and homeownership for current rental voucher holders.
Work with shelters and state agencies to expand emergency housing options for communities impacted by domestic and community violence so that residents have the support they need to leave housing that is unsafe.
Expand property tax relief for seniors beyond the current $1,000 per year limit, and adjust the income and asset limits to expand eligibility for relief.
Reform Zoning for More Affordable Housing
By implementing structural changes to our development process and creating an accountable public planning department, we’ll move from a one-off approvals process to predictable, accountable, and equitable rules based on community input, fair housing goals, and our long-term resiliency.
Exempt 100% affordable housing and public housing projects from parking requirements and most review in order to prevent frivolous lawsuits against affordable housing and reduce legal costs, and wherever necessary, dedicate City legal support to defending critical housing projects.
Prioritize higher density by-right near major transit corridors to accelerate new affordable construction while building a more connected city.
Enact tiered density bonuses for projects that exceed minimum affordability standards and projects near transit corridors.
Replace rigid parking minimums with holistic transportation planning.
Ban credit checks for renters applying to inclusionary development and homeless set-aside units by establishing admissions requirements in the zoning code.
Reform zoning standards to make it easier and less expensive for homeowners to make small property modifications
Allow both interior and detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) by-right in order to grow our housing stock, help owners cover rising housing costs, and meet the evolving needs of Boston’s multigenerational households.
Maximize the Impact of Private Funding
Boston has experienced a historic development boom, but new growth has not benefited all Bostonians equally. Even as Bostonians struggle to remain in place, our linkage program is failing to maximize private contributions for housing, and too many tax-exempt institutions are not paying their fair share. We must ensure that private development benefits Boston neighborhoods by leveraging private funding to fight displacement and stabilize our communities:
Reform the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) to increase the affordable housing requirement, lower the square feet threshold, put more emphasis on housing for residents at or below 60% of the area median income (AMI), and require that a majority of new affordable units be built on-site to ensure communities are diverse and integrated.
Increase the per-square foot linkage fee, lower the square footage threshold, and apply the exaction to each square foot of new developments that are subject to linkage.
Require full linkage payment for each building at the time that the building receives a building permit so that payments can be deployed to prevent localized displacement and focus job training programs locally.
Allocate at least ⅓ of existing funds through the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program toward housing and press tax-exempt institutions to do the same for their community benefits programs.
Ensure PILOT payments are made based on today’s property values.
Update Boston’s PILOT reports by including Massport payments and work with Massport to fund air quality improvements to homes and schools impacted by air pollution.
Pursue a vacancy tax on those who buy housing without ever intending to live there in order to offset the impacts of not having that unit occupied and discourage commercial speculation.
Expand Homeownership Opportunities
Homeownership is a central part of closing the racial wealth gap, stabilizing our communities, and giving residents the chance to put down roots in our city. But soaring home prices and widening racial disparities have closed off homeownership opportunities for too many Boston residents. Boston advocates are already shaping federal proposals to support first-time homebuyers. As Mayor, I’ll lift up this work and bring the full backing of the City to prioritize housing, homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap:
Contribute City funds to matched savings programs to level the playing field for first-generation homebuyers, homebuyers of color, and other residents without the benefits of generational wealth.
Expand support for the ONE+Boston Mortgage program to make homeownership possible for low- and moderate-income households by lowering their monthly mortgage payments.
Push the state and federal government to support homeownership programs focusing on first-time homebuyers and historically marginalized communities.
Support existing education programs to help aspiring homebuyers prepare for homeownership and expand programs to include collective ownership and tenancy in common arrangements, which hold promise for multigenerational families and other non-traditional homes by allowing two or more households to divide the costs of ownership and keep monthly payments more affordable.
Support residents with Section 8 vouchers with down payment assistance and long-term financial coaching in order to make use of the Section 8 homeownership program.
Pilot a municipal homeownership voucher program and work with local financial institutions to “bank on” this voucher for mortgage loans.
Use creative seller financing combined with a life estate to provide a mechanism for younger buyers to buy out senior homeowners while allowing them to remain in their own homes.
Double Down on Affordability
Although the City has set goals for construction of new income-restricted units, this does not include specific goals around deep affordability—housing that is truly affordable to Boston residents—nor affordable ownership opportunities. Over the last several years, only 9% of newly-permitted income-restricted units have been affordable to residents making up to 60% of the area median income (AMI)—who make up nearly half of our population. Boston must double down on affordability, including affordable homeownership opportunities and long-term affordability through social housing.
Use more accurate measures of affordability to better understand neighborhood affordability needs and base all calculations of housing affordability on the City-wide median income or the median income for each neighborhood, whichever is lower, rather than AMI.
Reform the public land disposition process to produce better economies of scale and cost savings, which can then be passed on to ensure lower rents and home sales prices for residents.
Take advantage of the City’s bond rating and historically low interest rates to lean in with our capital budget, including through green and social bonds, to directly build new deeply-affordable, energy-efficient housing.
Leverage the City’s capital budget, public housing subsidies and project-based vouchers to integrate affordable housing into the redevelopment of municipal assets such as libraries, community centers, and parking lots.
Finance the conversion of owner-occupied properties to social housing, including limited equity housing co-ops and community land trusts, which allow residents to build wealth while stemming the risk of displacement embedded in the speculative market.
Elevate Fair, Accessible Housing as a Civil Rights Issue
Throughout the 20th century, the federal government perpetuated housing segregation through redlining—the practice of designating certain neighborhoods as too risky for federally-backed mortgages. But major banks and other financial institutions have perpetuated inequities in access to capital based on an outdated perception of risk, closing off homeownership opportunities for Black and brown residents. As Mayor, I’ll bring public and private partners to the table to ensure that all homeownership programs target residents living in neighborhoods with a history of redlining and disinvestment, and I’ll ensure seniors, those living on fixed incomes, people living with disabilities have access to safe, secure, affordable housing.
Implement the City’s Assessment of Fair Housing through an Executive Order and require all City departments to participate in the regular review, amendment, and updating of all recommendations.
Coordinate with banks and insurance companies to shift lending policies so that smaller and minority-owned development and construction companies have access to credit and bonding to move up in the industry.
Explore the creation of a pooled credit enhancement fund to allow affordable housing developers to obtain better terms for land acquisition or construction loans, allowing less-capitalized firms and minority-owned firms to secure financing and advance new affordable development projects.
Establish a citywide Universal Design Trust to promote accessibility upgrades in private and public housing, with dedicated revenue from short-term rentals, which are often not accessible to people living with disabilities.
Prioritize City and Housing Trust grants for projects that promote accessibility and inclusion.
Advocate at the Massachusetts legislature to establish a universal housing bond bill to create a housing financing source exclusively dedicated to housing for seniors and persons with disabilities.
Align Housing Affordability with Climate Resilience
Energy efficient homes can improve indoor air quality and safety, lower residents’ energy consumption and utility bills, and accelerate Boston’s progress towards our climate goals. Yet in Boston, lower-income communities lack access to the benefits of energy efficiency and the resulting cost reductions and health benefits. By aligning housing policies with our climate goals, we can meet the urgency of these overlapping crises while improving the quality of life for Boston residents.
Prioritize resiliency retrofits for owner-occupied properties in areas with flood risks where residents want to add units but need financial support.
Expand financial and technical support for retrofitting assistance programs, such as Boston’s Senior Save Program, and support senior-serving program coordinators to help meet the needs of this population.
Prioritize housing density near major transit corridors to reduce residents’ reliance on personal vehicles and build a more connected city.
Address Homelessness Through a Public Health Lens
Homelessness in Boston intersects with substance use disorder and mental health challenges, and these overlapping crises are compounded by inadequate mental health care infrastructure and persistent racial disparities. But service providers and advocates emphasize that getting patients into treatment isn’t enough--everyone needs a safe, healthy, affordable home in order for a foundation of stability to pursue a pathway to a job, education, and a better future. We must invest in a housing-first approach informed by public health experts to meet the needs of all residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.
Read our full Homelessness, Substance Use, and Mental Health Plan here, or check out the plan summary below:
Complete an audit of our housing stock to identify gaps, including housing units in sober homes, short- and long-term residential housing, day programs, permanent supportive housing, and single-room occupancy units to better understand citywide demand.
Build supportive housing through the City’s capital budget, taking advantage of available opportunities to develop new housing on City-owned property.
Streamline zoning for deeply affordable housing so that new scattered-site supportive housing units can move forward across Boston’s neighborhoods, creating pathways to transition people out of supportive units once they’re ready.
Lower barriers to entry to shelters and community organizations offering low-threshold supportive space to better serve the full range of unhoused residents and those affected by substance use disorder.
Integrate transportation into supportive housing services to lower obstacles for shelters and service providers to coordinate care.
Coordinate across City agencies and partners, including by hiring additional housing case managers so that Street Outreach Teams and healthcare providers can connect those they serve with housing.