Surrounded by dozens of housing advocates Thursday, Mayor Michelle Wu announced $50 million in funding for improvements to the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain and issued a directive establishing a fair housing agenda, announcing her commitment to housing equity following years of disinvestment from the federal government.
“Housing stability and affordability has to be the foundation for our recovery from this pandemic,” Wu said, moments after signing an executive order outside the public housing complex, one of the city’s largest with roughly 775 units.
“Housing is health, it’s safety, it’s opportunity, and we will draw upon every possible bit of power and resources that we have to make sure that we are centering housing for our residents,” she said.
The funding for the Hailey Apartments, formerly known as the Bromley-Heath housing project, would support long-needed ventilation, plumbing, window, and kitchen fixes in more than 500 units some of which were built in the 1940s. The mayor said the fixes would address environmental health hazards such as mold and mildew, while increasing energy efficiency.
The work, which would combine federal American Rescue Plan funding with city capital project spending, could begin this year.
Surrounded by advocates, Wu also signed an Executive Order Relative to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The directive helps to build in fair housing and racial equity considerations into all levels of city work.
The order incorporates recommendations by the city-sponsored Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Community Advisory Committee, a community engagement process to identify fair housing challenges, priorities, and action steps; the project began more than five years ago, under the Obama administration, but stalled due to lack of federal funding.
Wu said the committee’s recommendations and the directive will lay out her administration’s affordable housing agenda.
“This is a step that will serve as a starting point for all the work that is still to come,” Wu said.
The mayor added in a statement, “We plan to make affordable housing a top priority when it comes to putting federal recovery money to use. That means preserving and improving affordable housing that already exists, as well as adding more affordable housing options for residents across the city.”
Housing advocates and community groups that served on the community advisory committee celebrated the mayor’s executive order Thursday, as well as the $50 million commitment to the Mildred Hailey apartments. The apartments are run by the Boston Housing Authority, which is largely dependent on federal funding and has seen resources dwindle over the last several years.
“This funding will significantly improve the lives of hundreds of families in a community that truly needs the help,” said Kate Bennett, Boston Housing Authority’s administrator.
City Councilor Kendra Lara, who represents the neighborhood, said the funding is a commitment to the housing project, but also the people who live there.
“When we are making an investment in public housing, we are making an investment in the working-class people of the city,” she said. “We are making an investment in the people that make our neighborhoods the vibrant communities that they are today.”
Yolanda Torres, president of the Mildred C. Hailey Tenant Taskforce, said the funding would support hundreds of low-income families, from diverse communities. Of the tenants in the Mildred Hailey apartments, more than 30 percent are children and 50 percent are elderly. The average household income is $20,000.
Torres said apartment units there are decades old and “severely distressed” and in need of repairs. She welcomed the funding announcement.
“Our families and especially our children, elderly, and our disabled residents need safe, sanitary, quality housing in Jamaica Plain — the diverse and vibrant neighborhood of Boston we are proud to call home,” she said.
But state Representative Nika Elugardo, who represents the neighborhood in the Massachusetts House, said that more funding needs to come from state and federal resources to “invest” in public housing, saying the $50 million — while a notable commitment — is only a fraction of what’s needed.
“This $50 million is a down payment on an investment … because this work is not done,” she said.