As Michelle Wu ran for Mayor she saw first hand the struggles some residents were having finding and maintaining affordable housing in Boston.

She met with residents at the 147 unit Forbes apartment complex in Jamaica Plain, which houses mostly low-income seniors and persons with disabilities, who were worried about losing their subsidized housing. She spoke with a family in South Boston who said that mold issues in their subsidized apartment were affecting their new born baby’s health, and she visited Georgetowne Homes in Hyde Park where residents were dealing with water damage.

“Everywhere I went people wanted to share the deep anxiety that they were feeling around housing instability and how unaffordable Boston is becoming,” Wu said in a recent interview with Spare Change News.

Now that she is mayor, Wu is aiming to deliver on her campaign promises to make housing more affordable in Boston. Since taking office Wu has unveiled a list of aggressive initiatives to create and maintain affordable housing, including commissioning feasibility studies to explore how the city can increase it’s affordable housing requirements from 13 to 20-percent or more and increasing linkage fees on new developments, her office said in a statement  She also announced that she would be forming a Rent Stabilization Advisory Group that would explore the possibility reviving rent control in the city and would aim to draft legislation for the next state legislative session.

“There is so much energy across our communities to really take big bold action, and we see it in the activism around housing, and affordability, and housing stability during the pandemic, and we’ve seen it with the energy around policies that said would be too hard to take on or to change,” Wu said.

Among those policies is rent control.

Wu was the only candidate during the mayoral campaign to support bringing back rent control, the Boston Globe even noted that she was “on an island alone” on the issue. 

“I think it’s important to remember that there are already thousands of residents in the city of Boston who are able to stay in our city and contribute to our communities because they are living in rent controlled apartments,” Wu said. “And these are deed restricted, often below market rents because there was some public financing that helped create those apartments, or it’s subsidized housing, or some other way.

“But we already see the impact of people having the support to be able to afford housing in an incredibly expensive market,” Wu said. 

She said that other communities around the country have successfully instituted parameters around stabilizing rent. Wu said her advisory group would look at what other communities are doing, study best practices, and come up with a proposal that would go before the state legislature.

“The example is very clear in other cities,” Wu said. “Cities thrive when people thrive, and we have to ensure that we are building the city for everyone that we dream of. And that means putting in place the protections that are necessary so that everybody can thrive in our city.

“In other places and in other states where rent stabilization policies have been put in place, or legislation has been passed, they have not seen, there have been reports done and research done, they have not seen a significant negative impact on housing production from rent stabilization.”

Along with rent control, Wu also planned to audit of all City-owned property “to leverage the city’s significant real estate holdings to create more affordable and supportive housing,” submit a revised home rule petition in January for a real estate transfer fee to generate new resources for affordable housing, and expand property tax relief for senior homeowners who have been longtime owner-occupants of their homes, the statement said. 

In addition to creating affordable housing, Wu has also invested in preserving it. She recently announced in a statement that the city was committing $50 million in funding for capital improvements at the Boston Housing Authority’s Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain. The funding would be used to address plumbing, ventilation, windows, and kitchen and bathroom improvements in 526 public housing units. She also signed an executive order to “instill the practice of fair housing and racial equity throughout all levels of City government.”

Wu also recently visited Long Island, which once offered services to those suffering from addiction until it was shuttered in 2014 after a bridge connecting it to the mainland was demolished due to structural concerns, according to the Globe.

While it’s still early in the process, Wu said she’d like to see the city utilize the island for recovery services once again.

“We’re continuing to plan around how we can access and renovate some of those facilities to be able to add to recovery and housing options,” Wu said. 

Wu said that now is also an opportune time to address these issues.

“This is a moment also where we have resources available to address the inequities that the pandemic has deepened, and it’s a once in a generation opportunity to connect federal funds with our recovery,” Wu said. 

And she’s already making use of those resources

On Tuesday Wu’s announced in a press release that the city would be investing $40 million to create and preserve 718 units of affordable housing in Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Chinatown, Hyde Park, and Roxbury. The funding was recommended by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, the Neighborhood Housing Trust, and the Community Preservation Fund.

Wu said it was “a huge number that we’re really excited to see make a difference.

“There’s much, much more need out there, but the city has a chance to really be a key partner in financing and moving forward very significant affordable housing developments,” Wu said. 

And creating more affordable housing in Boston is one of the most important aspects of the city’s Covid-19 recovery, Wu said.

“We are past the point of urgency,” Wu said. “Housing is health, housing is safety and opportunity, and if we’re serious about building our recovery to really include everyone, housing is the foundation for that.”

Along with working to create affordable housing, Wu has also taken steps to combat homelessness. Earlier this month the city helped 154 people that were living in a tent encampment on Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard relocate to temporary housing, according to NBC Boston. Many of the people living in the area suffered from drug addiction and mental illness, and two people died in the area within a five day span in January.

Wu said that the temporary housing includes “intensive medical supports as well as counseling and support around job search and accessing permanent housing.

“The goal is that from that transitional housing, residents will be stabilized enough to be connected to permanent housing,” Wu said. “And that would open up spots in the transitional housing for other people.”

While Wu has hit the ground running when it comes to housing and homelessness, not everything has gone according to plan. In August Acting Mayor Kim Janey put an eviction moratorium in place to protect tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the The Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog. The moratorium was struck down by the courts in November, and in December a judge refused to allow it to stay in place while the city appealed the ruling.

Wu said she was disappointed that the moratorium wasn’t still in place.

“That saved lives during the pandemic,” Wu said of the moratorium. “And we fought to keep it, and we will continue fighting to put our resources to make sure that everyone has a place they can afford and thrive in.”

While the moratorium is no longer in place, Wu said residents can still reach out to the city for help if they’re facing eviction.

“Please reach out to the city’s Office of Housing Stability as soon as you sense there might be an issue,” Wu said. “We want to make sure that every resident knows their rights and has the resources and support that we can provide.”



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