Mayor launches task force to tackle lack of affordable housing
A new task force convened by Mayor Martin J. Walsh is set to take on a challenge that has stymied Boston’s leaders for years: how to create more housing for low- and middle-income residents in a city beset by soaring rents and home prices.
Walsh announced the formation of the group composed of academics, developers, planners, tenants, and landlords at the groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for a housing development for the elderly on Mission Hill.
“All of Boston’s residents deserve access to good quality housing,” Walsh said at the event. “We will get there. We will make sure the city is a place that everyone in the community can call home.”
Walsh has charged the task force with producing a plan by early summer that sets concrete goals to meet the city’s housing needs along with strategies for reaching them. Among many challenges, he said, the group will need to find a way to control development costs while encouraging private developers to build homes and apartments for low-income families and the elderly.
A similar group met last year at the behest of then-
mayor Thomas M. Menino. Walsh said he hoped the new task force would not only build on that work, but also come up with a model that could be replicated in other cities.
Menino left a mixed legacy with his housing policies, which could not prevent a steady increase in rents. Menino’s administration also came under fire at the end of his term after a Globe investigation found that the Boston Redevelopment Authority had waived affordable housing fees for developers of luxury apartments and did not use the fees it did collect to directly promote affordable housing development.
Joseph Kriesberg, president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations and a member of the new housing task force, cautioned that the group’s work, while important, would not be a panacea.
“The housing task force cannot address deep systemic issues of poverty and inequality. But what we can do is accelerate the rate of development and ensure that new development has housing at price points across the spectrum, not just the high end or bottom end.”
Some members of the new group, like the representatives of landlord and tenant groups, have had disagreements over housing policy in recent years.
“There are diverse interests and there will probably be disagreements,” Kriesberg acknowledged. “But that reflects the city and the reality. It all needs to be in the room. We need to find common ground.”
Kriesberg said the new effort was unlikely to have an immediate impact on rents, which are driven by the market. Demand for housing has been unrelenting and shows no sign of abating. And in Boston, a densely developed city with little unused land, the supply of new homes and apartments tends to increase incrementally, not in large spurts.
Walsh and Kreisberg said the benefit of the task force’s work would come in the form of closer relationships between profit and nonprofit developers, neighborhood groups, and lenders. It will also allow the city to guide new developments within a consistent framework and measure its progress at creating sorely needed affordable housing, they said.
“This is not just an issue you can solve and then move on,” Kriesberg said. “We’re trying to move the needle in a meaningful way in the right direction.”