Amid a housing crunch and a rental market upended by COVID-19, lengthy queues for affordable housing continue in Boston, with one organization that owns 500 residential units in Allston and Brighton seeing its waitlist top an eye-popping 17,000.
More than half of the units owned by the Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation have rental subsidies and on average the income for its households would be considered “the low-end of low income,” said John Woods, the organization’s executive director.
Woods recently confirmed the wait-list queue, and said that natural turnover that occurs with market-rate housing doesn’t happen with the type of housing his organization offers, which is the major driving factor for the length of the list.
“People are terrified of the idea of getting off the lifeboat,” said Woods.
Additionally, there are other caveats: applicants can be on multiple housing waitlists at the same time in the city, and many may have found sufficient housing but never notified the organizations to tell them to take them off the lists, said Woods.
With experts warning of a wave of evictions on the horizon, such waitlists provide a sobering look at the current reality of Boston’s housing crisis. The coronavirus further muddles the immediate future of the rental market, although Woods hopes there may be “opportunities within the chaos” for more affordable housing.
With its waiting list, Woods’s organization is far from alone in Boston. A similar scenario is playing out on Antwerp Street in Brighton, where Charlesview Inc. has 240 residential units, of which 220 are affordable.
The demand, said Jo-Ann Barbour, Charlesview’s executive director, for the organization’s housing is huge. She said between 1,500 and 2,000 applicants are presently on the Charlesview waitlist. Depending on the size of the unit, people could be waiting in that queue between four and eight years, she said.
“I probably get calls three or four times a week from folks in dire straits looking for housing and folks who are on the waitlist asking where they are on the waitlist,” she said.
There are other wait lists. The Boston Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing to more than 58,000 residents in and around the city, said it had more than 49,000 applicants for its affordable housing programs as of July 6.
Albert Caldarelli, the executive director of the East Boston Community Development Corporation, said recently that between 4,000 and 5,000 people are now in the queue for the agency’s affordable housing.
Leslie Reid, the chief executive of Madison Park Development Corporation, which has 790 residential units in Lower Roxbury, the vast majority of which are subsidized housing, said there are currently about 7,300 on its waitlist.
The Boston Planning & Development Agency has an Inclusionary Development Policy, which requires most housing developers to set aside 13 percent of units in new buildings at affordable rents, or pay money into the city’s affordable housing funds.
But Barbour lamented that many of the so-called “IDP” units in neighborhoods like Allston and Brighton are tethered to restrictions that consider applicants who earn up to 70 percent of the area median income, which effectively prices out many working families, she said. Area median income for a one-person household tops $83,000, according to authorities.
Offering units that would be compatible with 50 or 40 percent of the area median income, which would be considered very low income, is next to impossible without federal subsidies for developers, said Barbour.
City Councilor Liz Breadon, who represents Allston and Brighton, said development in the city is too often skewed toward young professionals, with a proliferation of studios and one-bedrooms and not enough spaces large enough to house families.
”We are not building enough housing that is income-restricted for lower and middle-income families,” said Breadon. ”Our city is losing families. For the general health of our communities, we need to have space for families.”
Barbour had similar sentiments, saying there is a dearth of available, affordable homes that feature three or four bedrooms in the Allston and Brighton area. She also said there are questions swirling about the future of very high-priced but small units.
“I think with COVID it’s going to be interesting to see how many people want to live in the city or come back into the city,” said Barbour.
The pandemic also poses another question for Allston and Brighton, which are home to more than 74,000 people and 30,000 housing units. Every autumn, in an annual rite that has become tantamount to a local holiday for people who enjoy free stuff from the curb, college students return and pack the hilly and triple-decker-studded neighborhoods in the western parts of the city hemmed in by Brookline, Newton, and the Charles River. Allston Christmas is as much a part of that neighborhood as the creak of the B-Line trolleys on Commonwealth Avenue.
But with the plans of colleges subject to COVID-19, it remains a question whether those collegiate renters will materialize this autumn in the same numbers as they have in years past.
Amid that uncertainty, Woods said he sees potential for growth for his organization: if landlords aren’t making money, they may put the properties on the market, giving groups like his the opportunity to buy and restructure them into more affordable units.
”It’s fluid right now,” said Woods. “There may be opportunities within the chaos.”
Breadon also spoke to the unknown of what this year’s collegiate fall will bring. Universities have stringent COVID-19-related rules for returning students that may drive some to seek off-campus housing, she said.
“It’s very hard to predict how it will go,” she said.
Tim Logan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.