Mayor’s budget will boost anti-displacement efforts

About $20.6 million in city operating funds would be dedicated to boosting housing and homelessness-prevention services under Mayor Walsh’s new budget, a jump of more than 44 percent over last year that stems in large part from a new hotel and short-term rental tax.

The room occupancy tax will increase from 6 percent to 6.5 percent due to the short-term rental legislation that made it through the State House and across the governor’s desk late last year. Although hospitality services worry that the increase will burden their businesses, the levy is expected to generate about $5 million in additional revenue for the city, according to housing chief Sheila Dillon, all of which would go to housing and homelessness efforts.

“Everything we’re doing these days, we’re focused on displacement,” Dillon said during a briefing with reporters last week, “and making sure that people that are living in Boston can stay in Boston.”

Around $105 million in total would go to the Department of Neighborhood Development in fiscal year 2020 under the new budget, up 7.6 percent from last year.

City officials highlighted several related programs, including $4 million planned for permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. The money goes toward building and acquiring property, rental assistance, and supportive services for those who have interconnected needs such as mental illness or struggles with addiction. More than 700 homeless individuals have been resettled into homes since the program began, aides said.

Another $1 million of city money and a first-time $4.9 million HUD grant are being dedicated to housing pathways for homeless youths and young adults, said Marty Martinez, the city’s chief of health and human services. In a to-be-released program with between 60 and 70 distinct initiatives, Martinez said, the city will be looking to “disrupt the pipeline” of hundreds of homeless youths later becoming homeless adults.
For many struggling with homelessness, among the few safe places in the city are its public libraries.

“The library has been a place of service and respite for people dealing with homelessness challenges for many, many years,” said Boston Public Library President David Leonard. Officials hope to expand a year-old partnership between the Department of Neighborhood Development and Pine Street Inn that used the central branch of the library as a place to conduct outreach.

A dedicated social worker, on hand there to assist those who need housing resources, is connecting with around 125 individuals on a monthly basis, said Leonard. Now, with $100,000 proposed in the budget for expanding the program, an additional social worker or two part-time employees can work at other branches.

As to affordable housing side, $650,000 is planned for scaling up the additional dwelling unit pilot, where homeowners can build small units on their properties that could be rented or sold.

Around 70,000 bedrooms are empty in the city, officials said, going unused in larger units. For older residents with extra rooms, the city is looking to expand a pairing program aimed at elders and young people willing to exchange basic help with daily living for lower rent.

Next step: The City Council will take up the budget’s proposals.

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