Only a few days before Boston’s longest serving mayor, Thomas M. Menino, announced that he would not seek a sixth term in office, he introduced an ambitious new initiative. Known as Housing Boston 2020, the plan seeks to create as many as 30,000 new units of housing within the next seven years. The plan will build upon the mayor’s July 2000 plan, Leading the Way, which resulted in 20,000 new units of housing.
“For the mayor, housing has been near and dear to his heart and to his administration. He really wants to leave a blueprint in place for the incoming administration,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing and Director of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston. “First we have to figure out exactly what we want to accomplish. We have an idea of the areas we really need to work on, and once we identify those, we’ll really dig in.”
The Menino administration has handpicked housing experts and professionals from the private sector and non-profit development communities to serve on an Advisory Panel for the Housing Boston 2020 plan. The panel’s first meeting is scheduled to take place within the month. While still in the preliminary planning stages, Dillon said that the administration has zeroed in on the specific housing challenges and opportunities in Boston.
“We need a multi-pronged approach and make sure that we have the resources so that we can do that—not do one of those one size fits all,” said Joe Kriesberg, a member of the panel and President of Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. “We want to make sure that every neighborhood has a mix of incomes and see a better balance across the city both ethnically, racially, and economically.”
In recent years, a change in demographics coupled with a rise in population has led the administration to come up with different housing solutions to accommodate the diverse needs of its new residents. There has been an influx in the number of families moving from the suburbs to downtown, in addition, the administration predicts a similar trend with empty-nesters and seniors who will likely contribute most dramatically to population growth in the area. According to statistics provided by the City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development, there has been a considerable uptick in the number of children in Boston. From 2000–2010, the number of children has risen 37 percent in the Back Bay, 15 percent in the South End, 20 percent on Beacon Hill, and 23 percent in Downtown.
The panel will also focus on identifying development opportunities for affordable and middle class housing near key transit nodes such as the Fairmont Station and along the Orange T line. For several panelists, affordable housing will be a priority when outlining the plan.
“Affordability remains paramount,” said Thomas Callahan, Executive Director Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance. “It is still very hard to buy a house in the city if you don’t make a certain income.”
During the last two decades, Menino has played a critical role in facilitating access to housing for Bostonians and paving the way for new development, most notably around the Fenway and Seaport. Callahan said that the Inclusionary Development Policy instituted by the mayor and the Boston Redevelopment Authority has been a key tool in the creation of more affordable housing. This program, launched in February 2000, gives developers the option to designate a percentage of apartment units in their proposed development to affordable housing, build affordable housing units at a different location, or contribute money to a fund for the creation of affordable housing. Callahan said that he would like to see the panel consider raising the fee for developers that choose to contribute to the fund.
“We want to make sure that those who have helped to make Boston a better city should benefit from the changes and not be pushed out,” said Kriesberg. “It comes down to some really tough choices and decisions when it comes to transactions and development.”