For Immediate Release: February 22, 2021
Press Contact: Emily Brown Office of Councilor Kenzie Bok 617-519-7519
BOSTON — As the City of Boston pursues every avenue to secure long-term housing affordability for its residents, Councilor Kenzie Bok is continuing her partnership with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) to use untapped federal subsidies to add new public housing units to Boston’s housing stock. To further this work, this spring the BHA will complete a capacity study of places to add such units on its public land and DND will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for utilizing these federal funds.
In July 2020, Councilor Bok proposed that Boston take advantage of its right to build, buy, or certify up to 2464 more federal public housing units and immediately begin receiving federal subsidies for each one, thereby increasing the number of permanent deeply affordable units up to Boston’s full “Faircloth Limit”. Although federal legislators are working to repeal the caps imposed by the 1999 Faircloth Amendment, which prevent any new public housing from being built in many parts of the country, in Boston we are well below our limit and could add these additional units now.
“The pandemic has shown us the deep wisdom of public housing, where not only is the rent capped at 30% of income, but also people know that they will be secure in their housing if they suffer an illness or job loss,” said Councilor Bok. “For a more humane society, we need more of this kind of housing stability. In Boston, we should take advantage of the additional federal money we’re currently leaving on the table to add these extra units for our residents.”
Over the past year, Councilor Bok has worked with the BHA, DND, and Boston-area community development corporations (CDCs) to lay the groundwork for creating new federally-supported units. These units would not need to be sited only in traditional public housing developments but could instead be spread across the city, thereby helping to affirmatively further fair housing in all our neighborhoods. Some could be added atop public land and public buildings, some could be achieved through converting apartment buildings to affordable rents, while in other cases Boston could use the federal funds to lower the income thresholds for existing affordable units.
Both housing agencies are now taking concrete steps to make these new homes a reality. The BHA has commissioned a capacity study to analyze where on its land it could add additional units, while DND intends to issue an RFP in the spring, in conjunction with BHA, to offer this subsidy as an option for the affordable housing development projects that it supports.
“We’re pleased to have launched a process to evaluate locations on our own public land where we could add these deeply affordable units,” said Kate Bennett, the BHA Administrator. “We’ve also been excited to work with DND, our CDC partners, and Councilor Bok to explore other creative ways that we could grow our portfolio back up to our Faircloth maximum. Every unit added is another family or senior we’re able to house.”
These additional federal public housing units would also help Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development achieve the City’s overall affordable housing goals. “As we’ve aggressively pursued Mayor Walsh’s Housing Plan over the past seven years, we’ve felt the especially urgent need to increase the number of affordable units available to our lowest-income Bostonians,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing. “The Faircloth proposal by Councilor Bok is potentially a powerful way to achieve that deeper affordability. We intend to issue an RFP this spring, in collaboration with the Boston Housing Authority, to seek out projects that can use these additional federal subsidies to house our lower-income residents.”
Councilor Bok points out that this work is timely because of the prospect that the Biden Administration may reverse decades of underfunding of the nation’s public housing agencies. “If additional federal capital funds become available from HUD, we want to be prepared to add as much public housing in Boston as possible,” commented Bok. “We do not need to wait on Washington, but we want to be ready if Washington comes to the table.”
Councilor Bok filed a hearing order this week to continue to highlight the importance of taking full advantage of the opportunity to add these new public housing units. “As we recover from the pandemic, we need to use every opportunity to employ public land and public finance for the public good,” said Bok. “Housing affordability and housing stability are urgent priorities that we all share in Boston right now, so I have been grateful to Mayor Walsh and his Administration for their partnership and I look forward to continuing this important collaboration with our city departments.”