A deal struck with low-income tenants of the Concord Houses and the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will allow 171 units to remain affordable for the next 40 years in the South End.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s office announced the agreement which allows tenants earning no more than 80 percent of annual median income to pay 30 percent or less of their total income toward rent. The deal was made between current tenants and HUD with the help of Greater Boston Legal Services attorneys, the Boston Housing Authority, the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and LIHC Investment Group, one of the largest affordable housing investment firms in the nation.
Prior to the arrangement a HUD subsidy that kept the units affordable had expired, endangering the income-restricted status of the units.
The new agreement allows tenants to convert their enhanced housing vouchers into a new project-based rental assistance contract.
“Current tenants could have gotten a voucher that would have paid their rent but once they moved it would have returned to the market so it wouldn’t have saved the affordable housing stock,” said Susan Hegel, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.
Hegel mainly works on cases in Cambridge and Somerville, areas she said are also experiencing gentrification and displacement. Rents at the Concord Houses, she said, are 185 percent of the fair market rent, which is reflective of rents in the area.
“The South End is a very, very expensive place to live whether you’re a homeowner or renter,” Hegel said. “The long-term affordability and ethnic diversity in the buildings, all of that would have been lost if it was allowed to go to market rate.”
In a neighborhood where historic fights to maintain affordable housing were won and disputes between residents and the city created areas like the Villa Victoria, members of the community say maintaining diversity in the South End remains a challenge.
Michael Kane, Director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, called the fix a “historic victory,” while thanking tenants for accepting the offer.
“Saving affordable housing in the heart of the South End will help maintain the neighborhood’s racial and economic diversity well into the future,” Kane said in a statement.
Melvin King, a longtime community organizer, activist and writer, agreed with Kane, saying his response “was right on target.”
He said the big building boom that is happening in the city and gentrification in the South End need to be challenged.
“Some of that money should be going to folks in need,” he said of the developers building tall buildings. “There are some owners who would maintain affordable housing if they had the money to hang on to the property to keep the folks in need.
“I’m not sure what the technique is except getting the folks who are currently there to work out relationships with owners so they can remain,” King said. “The question is, is there a way that the city and the mayor can help these folks who want to remain?”
Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, a group that oversees the Villa Victoria housing units and fought against the threat of displacement from urban renewal in the 1960s, said competition with developers makes it hard for an organization like hers to build or purchase housing stock that they would like to keep affordable.
“For us to acquire property in the South End is very hard because it’s way too expensive and then we compete with private developers that could pay prime for a property and pay more than we can offer, even at the asking price. And then those units become market rate condos,” Calderon-Rosado said.
“The great thing about the South End is definitely the diversity … to the extent that the neighborhood continues to move into one direction that involves diversity,” Calderon-Rosado said, “because it pushes people out and it brings people in that are more homogenous in terms of their wealth and their cultural diversity, so it’s a challenge.”
Calderon-Rosado said she is impressed with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s proposals, which include more protections for tenants, but is looking for state legislators to also act to adopt similar proposals.
Newly elected state representative Jon Santiago of the ninth district, just sworn in weeks ago in early January, said though the South End remains the most diverse neighborhood economically in the city much has changed and affordable housing must be maintained.
He said proposals from leadership in Boston, including a real estate transaction tax on high end developments, are of interest.
“I think we need innovative programs like what was done with the Concord Houses where you had a team of professionals, organization and the city deadset on making sure the residents aren’t displaced,” Santiago said. “There’s a lot of ideas floating around the statehouse and I will decide which bills to cosponsor this week.
“There is no doubt that housing is a primary concern for residents in the city of Boston, not just the South End, and across the state.”
Like Santiago, Hegel said the focus should be on preserving affordable housing stock as a way to maintain diversity – the Concord Houses deal is a prime example of that.
“This was one tool we used to preserve affordable housing,” she said. “When you have affordable housing, if there’s anyway to keep it longer it’s cheaper to do that than to fight to build housing because there are more tools available to preserve existing housing.”