Councilor Kenzie Bok files policy agenda to expand public goods
BOSTON — Councilor Kenzie Bok has begun the 2022 Boston City Council legislative session by filing a policy agenda focused on the expansion of public goods in Boston. The eight hearing orders filed by Councilor Bok advocate for using public land and finance for the public good and build upon her work in her first term as a Councilor.
“Boston has often been the first American city to invest in public goods. We have a generational opportunity to again invest in public goods to combat the housing and climate crisis. We have the new political leadership, equipped with federal infrastructure and relief funds, to seize this moment,” said Bok.
Five of Bok’s hearing orders aim to move the city closer to achieving housing for all by calling for the creation of new public housing, more affordable homeownership, additional zoning relief for affordable housing, transforming the use of the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s planning and land-use tools for the public good, and reducing barriers to renting in the city, especially for low-income tenants.
“We must explore every avenue available to us to solve our housing crisis,” said Councilor Bok. “Whether it's eliminating discriminatory tenant screening methods or building more social housing on public land, our goal must always be to get more folks housed decently and stably in our communities.”
Last session, Councilor Bok successfully championed eliminating parking minimums for affordable housing, but identified a number of further changes that are still needed. “Every time an affordable housing development is approved, we house families who have been stuck on sofas and in shelters. We need to rapidly accelerate the pace of those approvals,” said Councilor Bok.
The City also needs to play a larger direct role in housing. Councilor Bok first urged the city to build 2464 new public housing units, up to its federal Faircloth limit, in 2020. Since then, she has worked with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the Mayor's Office of Housing to take steps towards doing so, including by commissioning a capacity study of BHA land where additional public housing units could be built and issuing a Request for Proposals to offer this public housing subsidy as a funding component for affordable housing transformation projects. The hearing will provide an update on this work.
Another hearing order from Councilor Bok, co-sponsored with Councilor Liz Breadon, highlights the role that American Rescue Plan dollars will need to play in bold new strategies for the public good. In 2021, Bok took the lead in the City of Boston’s budget process to ensure that a first tranche of American Rescue Plan dollars were dedicated not only to immediate emergency pandemic needs and revenue replacement, but also to housing, climate change, and municipal broadband. The $31.5 million supplemental appropriation proposed by Bok and passed by the Council on June 30, 2021 included a major new investment of $15.4 million in the city’s Acquisition Opportunity Program (AOP) to enable the purchase and stabilization of affordable existing housing, a new $2 million fund for community land trusts, $3 million to enable the City to launch a pilot green jobs program, investments in digital access at BHA, and a study to explore municipal broadband.
“We have a unique opportunity to build a more resilient, equitable, and affordable city through COVID-19 recovery funds,” said Councilor Bok. “I am so pleased that Mayor Wu has already proposed using some of these funds for transformative investments in public transit and public housing. I look forward to working with her and the whole Council to make sure further funds can be used to tackle housing, the climate crisis, and digital access in ways that advance racial equity and put our lowest-income Bostonians first.” The hearing order will enable the Council to discuss the federal dollars invested so far, reporting requirements, and possible future appropriations – especially towards the $200 million that many Councilors pledged for affordable rental housing and homeownership. Councilor Bok’s remaining two hearing orders concern the conservation corps pilot on which she has partnered with Mayor Wu, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond (Chief of Environment, Energy & Open Space), and a consortium of city departments, and next steps towards analyzing the role for expanded municipal broadband in Boston.