Boston must boost number of affordable housing units

Affordability is a relative term, especially when it comes to housing in Boston.
According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the Inclusionary Development Policy requires that market-rate housing developments with ten or more units and in need of zoning relief set aside affordable units in their buildings (typically 13%), build affordable housing off-site, or pay into a fund to build affordable housing around the city.
But the formula for set-asides needs to change.
As The Boston Sun reported, The Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston, a residents group, and community organizations are calling on Mayor Martin Walsh to strengthen the city’s IDP. They held a virtual speak-out last week.
Jaya Ajyer, a community organizer at the Fenway Community Development Corp. said that the rule that developers must provide 13% affordable housing in new buildings is inadequate. “We know that 13% is not enough,” she said.
She added that “we know now that affordable is not really affordable,” and many of these units are “out of reach” for Black and Indigenous people of color and households without housing vouchers.
Boston uses Area Median Income (AMI) as a measure for defining affordability, Ajyer said.
Right now, the IDP is for 70% AMI, which amounts to one person making about $55,000 a year or less, or a household or family of four making $79,000 or less.
“What many residents in Boston actually make is about 30% AMI,” Ajyer said, which is one person making $23,000 a year or less or a household or family of four making about $34,000 a year or less.
That’s not poverty level — it’s working class.
They’re not the lawyers, professors and hedge fund managers who can swing the cost of a swanky condo without any rent relief. They’re folks with jobs who help keep the city running — from food prep to cashiers to cleaners. They’re customer service reps, who make an average of $33,217 a year, according to Indeed.com, or grocery associates who earn an average of  $40,967 per year.  While retail jobs have been hit hard in the pandemic, those who’ve kept their associate positions make an average of $45,855 annually. And thanks to online shopping, warehouse workers have been going gangbusters — yet they earn an average of $31,168 per year.
That should be enough to afford a place to live in Boston, but a glance at rents comparative to such salaries makes crunching the numbers a moot point.
Sam Montano from the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation said the coalition is demanding that Boston increase the IDP from 13% to 33% by the end of next month.
“We would like to make sure that IDP units being developed are actually affordable to folks in Boston,” Montano said.
The aim of building affordable housing should always be top of mind, but the recent building boom in Boston has focused on high-end, high-rise units across the city.
The city should absolutely work to increase the affordable housing stock through construction, but expanding the amount of units set aside in new buildings needs to happen stat.
Boston is a great place to live — and it should be affordable to people at all levels of the income spectrum.

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