Boston Fed report highlights struggle to provide housing for lowest income renters
Report says Mass. affordable housing supply for the “extremely low income” inadequate and shrinking
Affordable housing activists and leaders called for better strategies and resources to help “extremely low income” renters after a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report indicated the housing supply for the poor in Massachusetts is inadequate and shrinking.
The state has only 48.6 housing units for every 100 extremely low income household, about two fewer per 100 than it had had the start of the decade, according to the report by the Boston Fed’s New England Public Policy Center.
The study also estimated that by 2035, the state will need between $843 million and $1.03 billion annually to preserve existing subsidized units and sufficiently increase its subsidized housing inventory to keep up with projected population growth. Extremely low income renters depend heavily on government assistance, with 84.3 percent of affordable apartments for such households receiving either state or federal housing subsidies in 2016.
The report, “The Growing Shortage of Affordable Housing for the Extremely Low Income in Massachusetts,” was released April 3 at a Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) forum and panel discussion co-hosted by CHAPA, Metro Housing|Boston and Homes for Families in Boston.
Report author Nicholas Chiumenti, a policy analyst at the New England Public Policy Center, said he didn’t want to give forum attendees “sticker shock,” but the high cost of meeting the growing need was undeniable.
Multiple panelists called for increased funding from the federal government, saying only it has the resources to adequately address the affordable housing shortage. In 2016, the federal government supplied 76 percent of Massachusetts’s affordable units through rental-assistance subsidies.
“It will cost billions, the solution is money, and the bulk of that commitment needs to come from the federal government,” said Bill McGonagle, administrator at the Boston Housing Authority.
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The “extremely low income” group studied in the Boston Fed report had average annual income of $11,980, with most households spending at least half their incomes on rent. The group also tended to be older, as more than half were over age 54, and the majority of the group lived alone.
The report said Massachusetts had about 275,000 extremely low income renter households in 2016, compared to about 978,000 total renter households, and it also had a shortage of about 141,000 affordable units for that income group. The report said the state must add an average of 4,024 subsidized housing units annually by 2035 to match expected growth in this population.
No state in the country is meeting its affordable housing needs, and Massachusetts ranks relatively high nationally in units per extremely low income household (No. 12). In addition, recent legislation provides roughly $675 million for affordable-unit creation or preservation, which will cover about 220 units per year to 2035, according to the report. The report also said 9,110 subsidized units occupied by extreme low income households in 2016 will have all their attached subsidies expire by 2025.
Preserving “every affordable unit” is critical, as it is generally much less expensive and complicated than building new units, said Panelist Bill Brauner, director of Housing Preservation and Policy at the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation.
Massachusetts State Rep. Chynah Tyler of Boston noted an ongoing building boom in the city, and she said revenues for affordable housing needed to be part of local agreements for luxury housing developments.
People need to believe homelessness can be eradicated, said panel moderator Byron Rushing, a longtime state representative and co-chair of the Massachusetts Commission to End Homelessness. He urged attendees to find the will and the right strategies.
“Can we see a time frame and money frame for a strategy to end it? To have housing for all of those people?” he asked.
CHAPA CEO Rachel Heller emphasized that expanding affordable housing is fundamentally about providing “homes” for people.
“Homes, we all know, are the foundations of our lives,” she said. “Homes are critical for good health, and for success at school and work, and homes take care of our families and contribute to our communities.”
“We need more homes,” Heller added. “And we simply don’t have enough homes to meet the need.”
Find the full report here.