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Mayoral Housing Test Post

Standing in the heart of Roxbury sipping iced tea, Sherika Beck reminisces about how different Nubian Square is from when she grew up here — and what kind of impact the city's next mayor will have.

“It's changed dramatically," she said. She points to new banks, new residential buildings — "so corporate," she said — alongside the old shops that have yet to open back up since the pandemic began. "This building wasn't over here — it used to be a big hole ... and then they have that new building. I believe that's going to be apartments."

But Beck says she can’t afford the apartments being built in her old neighborhood, and she doesn't qualify for subsidized rent.

"I would love to live in Dudley," she said, citing the square's former name, which like the changes she has yet to fully accept.

"I work down here and I grew up down here, but I'm unable to [live down here] because of the prices of the apartments."

Beck said her family has lived in Roxbury since her grandparents settled here. But she’s worried hers could be the last generation to call this city home.

Beck doesn't just want more affordable apartments — she wants the next mayor of Boston to help people like her own their own property.

"The cost of living costs a lot," she said. "And I don't want to be forced out of here. I love Boston. And right now I'm on the verge of looking for a whole new other state to go to. And that's bad."

Beck helps coordinate bus routes for city schools. She said she makes too much money to qualify for housing subsidies — but too little to afford market rents. That's a Catch-22 she hopes Boston's next mayor will solve.

One policy she wants to see return to the city is rent control. Michelle Wu is the only candidate who supports broad limits on rent increases. Other candidates either oppose rent control or only want restrictions on rents for seniors and disabled people.

Like many Boston residents, Beck spends a huge portion of her income on rent. A recent poll sponsored by WBUR found that housing was second only to the pandemic as a priority for Boston voters — and the poll found 76% support some form of rent control.

Boston already has an array of programs to help people buy homes and pay rent. And most of the candidates want to expand those efforts. But most say they want to step up the level of urgency applied to housing policy.

WBUR asked all six of the major candidates for mayor for their views on Boston's housing future. Here's what they said:

City Councilor Michelle Wu

In this Jan. 13, 2016 photo, Boston City Council President Michelle Wu presides over a meeting at City Hall in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)
In this Jan. 13, 2016 photo, Boston City Council President Michelle Wu presides over a meeting at City Hall in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)

"Boston has mechanisms for the production of affordable rentals and we've been hitting pretty significant milestones on that front... But when it comes to home ownership in particular, we still see that the barriers are very, very high for particularly first generation buyers and Black and brown residents."

Here's a look at how Wu answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"Our most urgent priority is to stem displacement and create more housing. Across the city, the top concern I hear from families as I’m knocking on doors and out at events is the need for affordability, and the stresses of spending more and more of household incomes on trying desperately to stay in this city, close to jobs and community. We must plan and zone for affordability, generate resources to create more affordable housing--including Boston’s direct investment through our municipal capital budget, and expand homeownership opportunities for first generation homeowners to close the racial wealth gap. We must act now to create new opportunities for Bostonians, ensuring that everyone benefits from our city’s growth."

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"The Mayor of Boston needs to be accountable for what happens to housing prices under his or her watch. In recent years, Boston’s housing prices have been higher than at any other time in our history, exacerbating the racial wealth gap and fueling a displacement crisis. These costs were fed by an economic development plan disconnected from housing, transportation, climate resiliency, and the needs of Boston residents."

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"Boston is in a displacement crisis. As our population has seen a boom, the number of children living in our city has declined. Families are being pushed out due to rapidly increasing housing costs, exacerbated by a transportation system in need of investment, and employers are struggling to recruit and retain talent due to the high cost of living. Cities should have the ability to use rent stabilization as one tool in our toolbox. This doesn’t increase the supply of affordable housing, but it does immediately stabilize and provide relief for our families who are at risk of losing their homes, having to move away from job centers, creating a more expensive commute and raising the costs of being low-income in our city. Such tools need to be used in a very intentional and focused way with all stakeholders at the table to tailor a policy that fits Boston’s housing market across each neighborhood, but we must act quickly to protect families from the accelerating displacement crisis."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"I support a vacancy tax on those who buy housing without ever intending to live there, to offset the impacts of not having that unit occupied. Those resources should go into building and increasing the supply of affordable housing and other public goods."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"In this historic moment, with momentum and resources from both the federal and state government to address the issues that were exacerbated and worsened by the pandemic, we need to use the funds to address the foundational need of housing. We need to mobilize all of the resources available to us to address our housing crisis. Through green and social bonds, Boston can invest directly in affordable, resilient housing. Through pushing to implement a transfer fee and vacancy tax at the state level, Boston can generate resources to create new affordable units. And through aligning our planning, zoning, and development process to match community needs, Boston can simplify our overly burdensome processes to ensure our growth is delivering resources for resiliency and affordability."


State Rep. Jon Santiago

Massachusetts State Representative Jon Santiago announces his candidacy for mayor, joining a crowded mayoral race. (Courtesy of the Santiago Campaign)
Massachusetts State Representative Jon Santiago announces his candidacy for mayor, joining a crowded mayoral race. (Courtesy of the Santiago Campaign)

"I work in the emergency department where patients come ... because they get evicted and they have nowhere else to go. And it's so hard to get people back into their respective homes or houses once they've been evicted."

Here's a look at how Santiago answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"I believe the most urgent priority is housing affordability and accessibility, both for renters and homeowners. If we want to begin tackling the big issues of gentrification, displacement, and wealth creation, we need to start with expanding affordability and increasing accessibility of housing. That means protecting, preserving, and expanding our current stock of affordable housing through innovative partnerships, increasing subsidies, investing in community land trusts, and simply building more. But it also means working with stakeholders to get creative when it comes to homeownership programs, making sure that we can get folks into affordable ownership opportunities to begin building equity and wealth. In our efforts to increase homeownership, we cannot forget about the renter class and must be prioritizing programs to support them as well."

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"Marty’s ability to bring together all of the major landlords during the pandemic to get an eviction prevention pledge saved thousands of residents from potential evictions.

He also did a yeoman’s job in standing up the Rental Relief vouchers, getting urgent and much needed relief to renters across the city.

Outside of COVID, I think Marty has done a good job in increasing our housing stock. I was proud to partner with the City on a number of projects, including with Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion to rehab units serving predominantly Black and Latino folks as well as the Fenway CDC’s project at New Castle Saranac to preserve almost 100 affordable rental units. When it comes to permitting, Marty actually exceeded his goal in 2019, permitting 7,000 more units than anticipated. However, we missed an opportunity to truly expand affordability. I believe that we must be even more aggressive when it comes to building affordable units and I think Marty fell just shy of that."

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"I support ways to increase affordable housing options, and I’m 100% for certain policies that help stabilize rents and open pathways to ownership. To that end, I cosponsored and advocated for the most progressive moratorium on eviction in the country; in addition to helping secure an all time record increase in rental vouchers.

As mayor, I will leverage the city’s triple AAA bond rating to help low-income families buy their first home, create equity to build more affordable housing, and I want to double down on resources and staffing for the Office of Housing Stability - something that I want to see be much more proactive in order to save folks teetering on the edge. But when it comes to rent control, Boston is a city of neighborhoods and what may work best in one area may not work best in another. As mayor, I would prioritize keeping families in their neighborhoods by preserving and expanding affordable housing opportunities like One+, doubling down on anti-displacement programs, and encouraging homeownership."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"Yes. One of my priorities as mayor will be how to capture progressive revenue from sources that benefit from what our city has to offer but do not actually live here. Implementing a tax on foreign investors who take units off the market simply as an investment is one of those programs I support. As mayor, I would use that funding to support increasing availability of rental vouchers and supporting our CDC’s and community land trusts to build, maintain, and expand affordable housing units."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"As mayor, I plan on addressing displacement through several different mechanisms, including increasing city support for housing vouchers, getting more folks into homeownership, and using city resources to amplify the work of our non-profits. As mayor, I plan on securing funding to support these mechanisms through three major streams. First, I would leverage the city of Boston’s triple A bond rating to authorize bonds that will go directly to residents who need it in the form of mortgage guaranteeing, housing vouchers, and building affordable units. Second, I would improve the linkage fee formula by including parking area as a part of the linkage fee assessment. Right now, parking is exempted from linkage fee calculations and as mayor, I would end that exemption to capture more funds. Third, I support raising progressive revenue for housing through innovative programs like the Real Estate Transfer Tax and a tax on foreign investors. PILOT reform is also necessary to make sure that wealthy institutions are paying their fair share."


City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George

Boston City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi-George. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi-George. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

"Boston's an expensive city to rent. Boston’s a very expensive city to live in. And so often the cost of rent is more than the cost of a mortgage. So as a city, we [must] work to increase supply and work to increase opportunities for more homeownership."

Here's a look at how Essaibi-George answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"If we want our city to grow and thrive, and I certainly do, we need to directly address housing affordability. Increasing supply—in Boston and in the surrounding areas—is critical to ensuring housing affordability at all levels of income. As Mayor, I will not only build more housing, but ensure that housing reflects the needs and realities of our residents — from multi-bedroom affordable housing for families, workforce housing for working residents, and senior-specific housing, so seniors can remain in their communities, including housing for older residents who identify as LGBTQIA+ or older residents with disabilities. I would also invest more in the City’s first time homebuyers program, which not only prepares first time home buyers looking to purchase their first homes, but also offers residents, many of whom would not be able to otherwise, the opportunity to purchase a home by qualifying to make a below average down payment upon purchase and lower monthly mortgage rates."

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"A- Mayor Walsh put forward ambitious housing goals, more so than any of his predecessors. It’s critical the next Mayor keeps pace with this production, especially as we think about how this relates to our economic recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the growth under the Walsh Administration brought good jobs, workforce talent and desperately needed housing, we can always do and be better, that’s why I am running for Mayor of Boston."

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"Housing is too expensive for too many families in Boston, but rent control isn’t the best way to fix that. While rent control appears to help existing tenants in the short term, in the long term, it decreases affordability, fuels gentrification, and pushes people further and further away from our neighborhoods. We need solutions that get to the root of the problem: better paths to homeownership, more affordable housing, creating generational wealth to break down systemic racism, and increasing equity across every neighborhood."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"Yes, I am open to exploring this. But while it’s critical to know who is investing in and profiting from our housing market, I believe the bigger issue is what, or in this case, what’s not being built here. There are too many vacant units in Boston, exacerbating our affordable housing crisis."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"On the Council, I’ve been leading the charge to reconvene the PILOT [Payment In Lieu Of Tax program] Task Force, and I think a lot of that money should go towards building more housing here. Since convening the PILOT Task Force in 2009, the City has not conducted a new assessment of property value to account for significant institutional growth and landownership for the institutions of PILOT. In my first hundred days, I will reconvene the PILOT Task Force, update our PILOT agreements, and build an office dedicated to institutional compliance and transparency to ensure equity for the tax paying residents of Boston."


City Councilor Andrea Campbell

City Councillor Andrea Campbell announces her candidacy for mayor of Boston at the Grant Manor Apartments in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
City Councillor Andrea Campbell announces her candidacy for mayor of Boston at the Grant Manor Apartments in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

"I remember when we closed on our home, my husband and I, how emotional it was for me, because I knew with the purchase of this home, that would be breaking cycles of generational poverty for my family and most importantly, my two boys, which I didn't have growing up in the city of Boston."

Here's a look at how Campbell answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"Affordability. Boston was already experiencing a housing affordability crisis before the pandemic, but now we need to bring every resource to bear to provide rental relief and prevent displacement, use legislative tools to generate and preserve affordability, and build housing that is truly affordable for those who live here."

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"C. The Administration’s approach to addressing the housing crisis by focusing on building more units without planning and building with a true equity lens has not brought us out of this crisis. It’s getting harder and harder for working and low-income families to stay here. I am proud to have partnered with Mayor Walsh and his Administration on passing the Community Preservation Act which now generates millions of dollars annually for affordable housing, activating vacant lots in Dorchester for new housing, and bringing a program into the Boston Housing Authority to help residents move out of public housing and into home ownership opportunities."

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"There are many tools in our current tool box to ensure our residents can afford to live here and stay here that I would implement with urgency, and rent control isn’t the answer especially when there is no appetite at the statehouse to implement this. Many of my constituents in Mattapan and Dorchester who are in owner-occupied residences and are truly making rent affordable also have real and valid concerns about how they would be able to care for their properties and make ends meet if a one-size-fits-all blanket rent control measure were instituted. The tools in my plan are practical, doable and can be implemented swiftly to address displacement and our affordability crisis."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"Yes."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"I believe we need a comprehensive, collaborative planning process to inform how and where we develop, to develop equitably and more creatively to meet the needs of residents, address the affordability crisis, and build resilient communities. I would activate city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing and ownership opportunities, prioritize more transit-oriented development, remove affordable housing from the Article 80 review process to accelerate development and cut down on costs, fund affordability with a revolving loan fund that will direct seed funding toward smaller builders and non-profits to develop affordable housing. We also need to ensure that we use the state and federal relief dollars, which have created an opportunity we might not receive again, in a way that is sustainable and provides immediate relief to those who need it most."


John Barros, former Mayor Marty Walsh's economic development chief

John Barros, at WBUR, in September 2013 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
John Barros, at WBUR, in September 2013 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

"The Boston Federal Reserve Bank reported that the median net worth of a white household in Boston is $247,000 — the median net worth of a Black family is $8. Home ownership was a big part of that."

Here's a look at how Barros answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"Keeping up with housing demand and increasing affordability is crucial to making sure working people, families, seniors, and everyone can continue to thrive in the communities they love. It’s also a key strategy for wealth building, preventing displacement, and ending chronic homelessness.

We need to provide stability and keep people safely housed as we lift the eviction moratorium, through a combination of rental assistance, while working with property owners and banks. Tenant protection is crucial. I would expand the City’s Office of Housing Stability to make sure tenants know their rights and protect them from eviction, and work with banks to restructure debt and mortgage payments so as not to place an unfair burden on small private landlords. I would also continue to support legislative efforts that would guarantee a right to counsel for people at risk of eviction, and establish a tenant’s right to purchase at fair market value any property in which they reside being offered for sale. I would also continue to advocate for a Just Cause Eviction law, which would require large landlords to notify the City of evictions so that the City can connect impacted tenants with information about rights and resources, and collect data to see eviction patterns that will better inform policy making in the future.

We also need to increase the amount of housing in Boston that is designated affordable to meet the needs of our workforce. The most important way to increase affordability is to first boost overall production.

As Mayor, I will increase the density of housing close to public transit and other amenities, and create more supportive housing for seniors, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness. We will only be successful if we get creative. A strong commitment to housing affordability will be more important than ever throughout the recovery from COVID-19. I will work with the state and surrounding cities and towns to encourage all of them to do their part. If you look at the Subsidized Housing Inventory the state publishes, it is clear that Boston is leading the way. We can’t do it alone. Other cities and towns need to loosen restrictions and build near transit. "

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"A-/B+. I am proud of the work I have done to help house Boston residents in my time as Chief of Economic Development. Due to our work the last seven years, Boston has more deed-restricted housing than any other city of its size in the US (20% across all units in the city, passed the Community Preservation Act, which has resulted in $30 million in two years for housing, adjusted the Inclusionary Development Program to generate more revenue, raised Linkage fees that developers pay into the Neighborhood Housing Trust (and the Neighborhood Jobs Trust), have housed 15,000 unhoused people since 2014, including 1,000 chronically homeless people and 1300 homeless veterans. "

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"I support the production of more subsidized affordable rental units."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"I would support taxing absent owners whose properties are blighted or abandoned. In order to not hamper our economic growth or our reputation within the global economy, I would lead a robust study process before making any determination."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"We must use all the tools in our toolbox to preserve and increase production of affordable housing and public housing options, and creatively finance new housing. As Mayor, I will use more City-owned land, including City-owned buildings to create housing adjacent to libraries and community centers; raise the Inclusionary Development obligation of developers to between 15-20% and do an annual assessment of the program; create a fund that supports the acquisition of land and creation of affordable housing by community land trusts, and support the creation of shared ownership programs like Neighborhood Investment Companies; and continue to support innovative methods of redevelopment for BHA properties. I will secure the passage of transfer tax legislation that would substantially increase affordable housing funds, and explore tax subsidies for builders. I will also seize this historic moment to continue to support innovative methods of redevelopment for Boston Housing Authority properties, including participation in public/private partnerships and leveraging the new $40 billion in HUD funding proposed in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan."


Acting Mayor Kim Janey

Acting Mayor Kim Janey speaks at the Medal of Honor Park in Boston on March 25, 2021. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Acting Mayor Kim Janey speaks at the Medal of Honor Park in Boston on March 25, 2021. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In a statement, Acting Mayor Kim Janey said the city needs “more home ownership opportunities so that residents have the opportunity to build generational wealth and break the cycle of poverty.”

Here's a look at how Janey answered our questions, in full:

What do you see is the most urgent priority in terms of the housing crisis in Boston?

"As Mayor, I will continue to move Boston forward with policies that help protect our residents, strengthen our city, increase housing stock and ensure development without displacement. Immediately upon taking office, I implemented $50 million in rental relief to support residents impacted by COVID-19. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to address displacement and the needs of Boston residents, especially the most vulnerable and those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. But beyond that, we have an opportunity right now to develop more housing in a way that prioritizes our residents. That means mixed-use development; that means home ownership opportunities; and sustainable, LEED-certified builds. We must also make sure that our contractors and developers are inclusive and diverse, employing Boston residents, people of color and women."

What grade does Marty Walsh get on the housing front?

"As Mayor, I am looking forward — not back."

Do you support rent control? And if so what would that look like?

"55,792 units are income-restricted in Boston — that’s nearly 20 percent, or one in five units in the city. Roxbury alone is 55%, with Chinatown at 49% and the South End at 34%. What we need to do, in addition to building more affordable housing, is provide economic development strategies that help folks out of poverty. We need workforce housing for working families, and we must ensure that the eligibility requirements aren’t out of reach. Too many folks — folks who deserve it — do not qualify under our current system. We need to open up this program to even more families."

Do you support taxing foreign investors in Boston’s housing stock?

"I support a vacancy tax on those who buy housing without ever intending to live there, to offset the impacts of not having that unit occupied. Those resources should go into building and increasing the supply of affordable housing and other public goods."

In order to create enough housing to stop displacement — where will the money come from?

"On Tuesday, I announced a $50 million emergency relief plan, funded through the American Rescue Plan. It includes $5 million for investments in affordable housing and housing navigation services; $4.6 million for acquisition of occupied buildings to prevent displacement; $400,000 for housing navigation assistance and stabilization services; and $3.1 million for programs strengthening homeownership and supporting individuals facing housing insecurity.

As Mayor, I am moving our city forward with policies that help grow our city, increase housing stock, with development without displacement. We need more mixed-income development housing. We also need more home ownership opportunities so that residents have the opportunity to build generational wealth and break the cycle of poverty. That is also how we’ll close the enormous wealth gap in Boston. My administration is also working to address discrimination found in the housing market in Boston.

In the coming weeks, there will be even more affordable housing initiatives and efforts announced by my administration."

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