Housing & Public Land
Public Land & Finance for Public Good
"Public Land & Finance for Public Good" is my ten-point program to use Boston’s public land and public finance capacities for public good. The proposals include mechanisms to improve Bostonians’ access to internet, housing, and wealth in order to make Boston a more environmentally and racially just city. Each one builds on existing city initiatives, and many have champions on the City Council and within city departments. They are eminently achievable, yet collectively they would transform our city in this critical moment by tackling long-standing challenges. Every one of these proposals is something we can begin now, without new State permissions or Federal funds. Furthermore, if we adopt the spirit of this program in our local public policy, we will soon identify more and more opportunities to utilize public assets for a greater degree of public good. Boston is the American city that first embraced public libraries, public schools, and public transportation. It is in the spirit of this long-running tradition of investing in public goods that we can best move our city forward and make it truly a city for all.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
In December, the Council passed an amendment to the Zoning Code, that I worked on with Councilor Lydia Edwards and Mayor Walsh’s administration for most of the year, and in mid-March 2021, it went into effect. The amendment codifies Boston's commitment to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Through the analysis and intervention measures that the amendment requires, Boston can begin to more effectively guard against displacement while also creating affordable housing in areas that have historically excluded people of color, particularly Black Americans, along with families, people with disabilities, and other protected classes. Boston is the first municipality in the nation to have an Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Zoning Amendment.
The AFFH rule, as released by the Obama Administration in 2015, explicitly establishes a dual goal: to support access to opportunity for the residents of low-income neighborhoods of color through “targeted investment in neighborhood revitalization or stabilization” that enables them to remain and thrive in those neighborhoods, and to simultaneously take positive steps to provide greater access for those who wish to move into “areas of high opportunity” from which they have been historically excluded through mechanisms of governmental and economic segregation.
Order for a hearing regarding homeownership assistance including for first-generation homebuyers
Filed with Councilors Edwards and Breadon
Boston recently launched its ONE+ Boston program—in partnership with GBIO, MAHA, and MHP—and that $8 million investment is already enabling many first-time homebuyers to access down-payment assistance and better interest rates than any other available peer program. We must continue to expand this program. Additionally, when it comes to closing the racial wealth gap, we as a City have just taken a further step by making an initial investment in a first-generation homeownership program. By definition, first-generation homebuyers come from families with no previous homeownership wealth, so helping this population is one of the most targeted ways to redress racial wealth disparities. The City of Boston is now investing $325,000 in MAHA’s first-in-the-nation program of this type, called STASH; the next step is to hugely grow this resource, so that we really help a whole generation of families build intergenerational wealth for the first time.
Order for a hearing regarding using planning and land-use tools for public good
Boston should build on its past tradition and use BPDA tools to help secure more land for the community purposes and long-term affordability that CLTs ensure. We should also use BPDA tools to acquire more parcels for public purposes – including the housing mentioned above, and as an extension of the Parks Department’s new Parcel Priority Plan, to acquire more space for urban wilds, rain gardens, urban farms, and urban forestry, along with the land needed for key flood mitigation measures. We should also write preferential options for conversion to cooperative or community land trust structures into city deed restrictions and ground-leases. While the City’s existing parcel disposition process has improved in recent years to more appropriately weigh the public benefit proposed by various private developers, these calculations are still mainly focused on short or medium-term horizons, whereas promoting public or community land trust ownership secures the long-term value of land for the public good.
Today’s City, BPDA, BPHC, and BHA ground-leases should be written to ensure that the long-term value of public land is captured by the public; this means that the public should share in long-term escalating private profits from the site, through regular “participation rent” and through “transaction rent” whenever a sale happens (a primer here). Furthermore, substantial portions of these long-term public profits should be reinvested in public goods, not merely plowed into public agency growth (as in the case of MassPort). The public should also share in the benefit when the long-term value of private land is majorly enhanced through public up-zoning. This is why the ratio of required affordable housing should be increased for PDAs, PDA Master Plans, and in major rezoning proposals, in order to tether density and affordability. We should also provide zoning relief for 100% and deeply affordable housing projects; this is another form of establishing the connection between public value-creation and public good.
Order for a hearing regarding reducing barriers to securing rental housing in Boston
Filed with Council President Kim Janey
Background remittances that landlords are able to do, including credit checks and criminal background checks, mean that many of our residents have a hard time finding the suitable and affordable housing that they badly need.
Before the economic impacts of the pandemic, credit checks already made it difficult for folks with low or nonexistent credit to find rental housing, even when these individuals have a housing voucher that means their rent is guaranteed by the federal, state, or local government. With the impacts of the pandemic, which has left so many folks suffering under substantial rent debt and other debt, or facing eviction once the moratorium lifts, credit scores will take a hit and so housing-linked credit checks will make it harder for our residents to get back on their feet. We need to move away from utilizing credit checks to disqualify renters with our own affordable housing, and we need to restrict and discourage the rental housing world of Boston from using this tool.
Criminal background checks, similarly, are a huge barrier for residents re-entering the community -- they can include convictions up to ten years old in some cases, as well as misdemeanors. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated individuals are at increased risk of homelessness when compared to the general population. Barriers to housing such as background checks perpetuate the “revolving door” of homelessness and incarceration. It also puts formerly incarcerated women at risk of returning to an abusive partner or otherwise unsafe environment to gain shelter.
Many other municipalities have made progressive reforms to both of these types of credit and criminal background checks, enabling more of their residents to be housed. Boston should follow suit, and live up to our goal of housing for all.
Order for a hearing regarding the current state of cooperative housing in Boston and strategies for its further expansion
We had a productive hearing last year on increasing educational and financial resources for those interested in joining or forming housing cooperatives, as well as how to support the development of more housing cooperatives in Boston. As a result of that conversation, DND and their partner organizations have made some real progress and are working towards a lesson on housing cooperatives as a part of the first-time homebuyers program, and on increasing access to share loans and other financial services for housing cooperatives.
Order for a hearing regarding zoning relief for 100% affordable and deeply affordable housing projects
Filed with Councilor Matt O'Malley
Last year, Councilor O’Malley and I held a hearing where we heard from the Mayor’s administration and advocates, which also included presentations from elected officials from Cambridge and Somerville on their municipalities’ affordable housing zoning overlays. Both Somerville and Cambridge serve as great examples of effective zoning relief for deeply affordable projects, and I’m excited to get to work on language for a zoning amendment that will enable Boston to build deeply affordable housing with less delays and a more streamlined zoning process
Resolution recognizing October as National Co-op Month.
Filed with Councilor Annissa Essabi George
Read the resolution here.
Order for a hearing regarding increasing public housing in the City of Boston
I first introduced the idea of idea building up to Boston's "Faircloth Limit" in July, and since then my office has been working with the Boston Housing Authority and the Department of Neighborhood Development towards a plan to build, buy, or certify up to 2,464 more deeply-affordable public housing units. These could be scattered around the city, both on public land and integrated into existing mixed-income housing. We’re making good progress and should have more to announce this spring!
What is the Faircloth Limit? In 1999, the federal Faircloth Amendment made it law that no housing authority could thereafter add any more public housing units than it operated that year, also known as the "Faircloth Limit". However, because of redevelopment projects after 1999 that de-densified Boston’s public housing stock, the City today has only 9,622 public housing units, whereas our Faircloth Limit is 12,086 -- allowing for the possible creation of additional units.
Resolution in support of An Act to Guarantee a Tenant's Right of First Refusal
Filed with Councilor Edwards and Councilor Breadon
Read the 2021 resolution here.
Read the 2020 resolution here.
Resolution urging the State Legislature and Governor Baker to extend the eviction moratorium.
Filed with Councilors Andrea Campbell and Lydia Edwards
Read the resolution here.
Order for a hearing on establishing a municipal fair housing testing program in the City of Boston
Filed with Councilors Matt O'Malley and Lydia Edwards
In July, after the release of the Suffolk University Law School report “Qualified Renters Need Not Apply” I co-filed “An order for a hearing establishing a municipal fair housing testing program in the City of Boston” with Councilors O’Malley and Edwards. Through testing in Boston and the surrounding area, the Suffolk study uncovered evidence of discrimination based on whether the tester said they had a housing voucher in 86% of the tests, and discrimination based on the prospective renter's race in 71% of the tests.
In October, the City Council held a joint hearing on three dockets related to rental discrimination and fair housing testing. It was so exciting to learn that the Office of Fair Housing and Equity will partner with Suffolk University to use the extra $250,000 we moved from police overtime to do real fair housing enforcement through testing. “Fair housing testing” can be done a few ways, but generally means that individuals pose as prospective renters.
We have to establish city capacity for enough consistent fair housing enforcement, and naming and shaming of bad actors, that people become afraid to practice housing discrimination of any type. Against our voucher holders, people of color, families, the LGBTQIA community, people with disabilities — all protected classes. I’m looking forward to learning about the outcomes of the city’s fair housing enforcement through testing and working to make this pilot program permanent. At the hearing, we learned best practices from fair housing experts and folks who facilitate fair housing testing programs in New York and Seattle, and discussed many ways to achieve a less discriminatory rental market including: catching discrimination with more proactive enforcement rather than putting whole onus on renters to report, educating everyone about their rights and responsibilities, and lowering key barriers like credit scores, broker fees, and CORI checks
Order for a hearing regarding City of Boston property tax deferral due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Filed with Councilors Wu and Edwards
Read the resolution here.
Resolution calling on property owners with vacancies to immediately rent to families with housing choice vouchers
Filed with Councilor Essaibi George
Read the resolution here.