Boston needs to find ways to solve affordability and displacement crises

By Danielle Sommer and Mike Prokosch, Special to the Reporter

Housing costs a lot in Boston. It’s getting harder to find a home you can rent or own. And people of color are being pushed out of the city, increasing segregation across the state. If we don’t take a stand now, not only will people be displaced today, but the crisis will also get worse.

Protecting affordability, especially for lower-income households, helps stabilize costs for everyone. Otherwise, as lower-income residents are displaced, moderate-income residents will increasingly become priced out as well.

To address the crisis of housing affordability and displacement, a community needs to be informed. But housing policies and statistics can be overwhelming. So community organizations decided to ask: What new housing is being built? What do the mayoral candidates plan to do? In that vein, we asked the city for more details than you can find in its quarterly reports. Some striking facts emerged:

• From January 2011 to June 2017, 21,955 housing units were permitted and completed. Of these, 636 units (or 2.9 percent) are affordable for households that make $31,000 a year (also known as 30 percent of Area Median Income (AMI).

• For many people, it can unfortunately be easy to forget that many people they encounter each day struggle to make ends meet on such low incomes. But the housing need is greatest at these income levels. Based on data from MIT researchers, more than 65,000 renter households make less than 30 percent AMI, and 49,000 pay more than 30 percent – even 50 percent – of their income on rent.

• Another 1,339 new units (or 6.1 percent) are affordable for households making $31,001 to $62,050 (31 percent to 60 percent AMI). Half of Boston households make $55,000 a year or less. Households of color and renters, who are both majorities in Boston, make even less. This means that about 9 percent of new housing is affordable to half of the current households.

• The city currently defines affordability based on incomes up to $125,000, including units with rents of $2,000-$3,000 per month. At these income levels, another 9.5 percent of new housing is income-restricted; and another 22 percent is market-rate but considered affordable.

So, depending on whom you’re talking about, 2.9 percent to 40 percent of new housing is affordable. Visit to analyze the data yourself.

We must look at these results now and in the future, including their impact based on race. On average, people of color, especially blacks and Latinos, make less money and have less wealth than white people. City policies, even when they are apparently race-neutral or well-intended, can widen racial disparities; so we need to work to ensure that policies promote racial equity.

What are the candidates proposing to do? To find out, eleven community organizations sent a questionnaire to Mayor Marty Walsh and City Councillor Tito Jackson. We asked where they stand on housing for lower-income residents, neighborhood stabilization, and community control of development.

Walsh and Jackson agreed broadly on some points. Both said it’s important to increase the city’s housing goals for households that make less than $25,000 annually. Both pledged to re-examine the Inclusionary Development Policy, which requires developers to include affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund. Both said they support community land trusts, affordable home ownership, and reducing homelessness.

Their specific commitments differ, however, as do their positions on affordable housing funding; affordability standards on city-owned land; the Boston Planning and Development Agency; and increasing community control over development. We encourage you to read their full responses at

Boston isn’t the only city with expensive housing. Our city, though, is the most unequal in terms of income in the United States. And the more unequal the incomes, the more unaffordable housing is likely to be if you’re on the low end of the income spread. While we need more action at the state and federal levels, we also need the mayoral candidates to take every possible action at the city level.

The better informed we are, the better we can ensure that our elected leaders will get housing policies right – policies that will determine who’s living in Boston in ten years. Do we want to protect our diversity and build current residents’ wealth, or do we want less diverse communities that prioritize wealthier newcomers whiled long-time residents are pushed out? In this important election and afterward, we need to know the facts. We need to know the candidates’ positions. And together, we – and the next mayor – need to solve the crises of affordability and displacement.

Danielle Sommer is a member of Keep It 100 of Real Affordable Housing and Racial Justice, and Mike Prokosch is a member of Dorchester People for Peace.