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Mayor Walsh lays out 'unprecedented' $500M plan for affordable housing

January 07, 2020

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh proposed a plan to inject $500 million in funding for low- and middle-income housing in the city of Boston during the next five years, an “unprecedented” investment that would represent “one of the most progressive housing policies in America,” he said at his annual State of the City address Tuesday evening. 

That $500 million would represent a five-fold increase over current city funding for affordable housing programs. 

"These investments are transformative," Walsh said. "I invite housing advocates and residents to help us bring them to life."

At a press roundtable this week in advance of the mayor's speech, Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing and director of the department of neighborhood development, said that in her 25 years of working in affording housing industry, "I have never seen a commitment of this size, this magnitude, this level of investment from a city of this size.”

“It will assist thousands and thousands and thousands of households. ... This type of investment will really make a sizable impact,” she said. 

Starting in the next fiscal year, the city will boost its investment in housing programs by up to $20 million annually for the next five years, more than doubling the current city operating funds dedicated for housing.

The additional $400 million over five years would come from the sale of the Lafayette Garage in downtown Boston, as well as funds from a new, city-approved real-estate transfer tax on properties that sell for more than $2 million. That tax still needs approval by state legislators, but city officials say they feel confident in its passage. 

The Lafayette Garage is a 1,029-space parking garage across three underground levels at 1 Avenue de Lafayette. The garage spans 153,123 square feet underneath the Hyatt Regency hotel and the Lafayette City Center offices. Unlike the Winthrop Square Garage — which the city sold to Millennium Partners for $153 million — the Lafayette Garage site cannot be redeveloped, because the air-rights above the property are owned by separate entities. 

Other housing programs Walsh announced Tuesday evening include:

  • A city-funded rental voucher program for Boston Housing Authority homes; and
  • Creating an infrastructure fund for affordable housing projects that would subsidize infrastructure costs in return for affordable units for low- and middle-income households.

“Altogether, this is one of the most progressive housing policies in America, because we believe in a Boston where housing is more than a commodity, it’s our community,” Walsh said Tuesday.

Walsh also intends to tap into the business community to explore creating an acquisition fund to support buying and developing vacant or underutilized parcels for low- and middle-income housing. The businesses and foundations could provide low-cost capital, he said. The idea follows a speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last year where Walsh called on the business community to step up its involvement in the housing crisis.

Chamber CEO Jim Rooney told the Business Journal on Tuesday that the chamber and representatives from businesses — including financial services and bankers, real-estate developers and large employers — have already gathered for one conversation with the city regarding housing, and intend to have more.

Rooney said the conversations will not focus on one specific tactic, but rather around creating a “menu of options” that the private sector and business community can play a role in. 

“Increasingly, I think the business community — and I’d like to think the Chamber — has embraced the notion that on these public policy issues, be it transportation or housing or environment and climate readiness, that there’s a role in the private sector,” Rooney said. “The days of, ‘Mr. Elected Official, when are you gonna fix it?’ are over. It’s far better to be at the solutions table than it is to be on defense when government tells you they’re going to do something.” 

Read this story on the BostonBusinessJournal.com