HOUSING IS A UNIVERSAL HUMAN NEED AND YET, AS A REGION AND A SOCIETY, WE CONTINUE TO FALL SHORT OF FULFILLING THAT NEED FOR ALL.
The data and findings in this report card parallel the housing efforts we see at work among community leaders and housing advocates. In broad terms, one area of focus is housing supply and demand and the resulting prices of homes to rent and own; another is affordability, housing instability and, new in the 2022 report card, subsidized housing. The core metrics section of the report card lays out the persistent realities of the region’s housing crisis related to market forces: cities and towns with variable and insufficient housing production histories, and rents and home prices that are among the highest in the country.
There are some bright spots. Metro Core Communities and Regional Urban Centers, as defined in this report card, issued many more housing permits than previous years, paving the path to increasing housing supply. Other than Maturing Suburbs, all community types had an increase in multifamily housing production. The 2019 Greater Boston Housing Report Card demonstrated that multifamily housing production increases diversity among residents, so this trend is moving the region in the right direction.
And yet, segregation persists. It is pronounced for Black and Latino homeowners whose home purchases are concentrated in just a few cities and towns outside Boston. In fact, Black and Latino households experience disproportional harm in almost every measure related to housing. They are cost-burdened at greater rates, they have lower rates of homeownership, and they are faced with eviction proceedings at higher rates.
Increasing housing supply with the underpinning of zoning change is a necessary path for the region. It’s the long game, first with policy, then planning and eventually with the actual production of housing—a process that will take years and even decades.
Meanwhile, shockingly, almost half of Greater Boston renters pay more than a third of their household income toward housing costs—and for many, rent extracts more than half their income. We are a region where sky-high rents take a toll on individuals and families.
This is the crisis of the present moment, where households are at risk of losing their housing now. Renters and owners who are barely making rent and mortgage payments face the prospect of eviction or foreclosure, and in worst-case situations, homelessness. For these households, there is no long game—the crisis is already knocking at their door. And it is particularly acute for households of color, who are much more likely to face eviction proceedings against them. It plays out in neighborhoods and communities that are home to more households of color, particularly Black and Latino households.
There is no question that the best of our efforts for housing stabilization during COVID must continue, with special attention to households of color, those with disabilities, recent immigrants and others who may be reluctant or unable to seek out support from conventional sources. It is also where subsidized housing plays a vital role in providing affordable options to lower-income households. Metro Core communities have done significantly more than others in providing this affordable stock, followed by Regional Urban Centers, but other communities are trailing far behind and must step up.
We examine another, related element of our housing crisis in this year’s special topic, “Who Can Win the Lottery: Moving toward equity in subsidized housing.” This section of the report uncovers inequities in several administrative practices related to subsidized housing and also in the targeting of specific populations for new affordable housing developments. Some subsidized housing marketing and lottery administration practices could result in low-income households of color never even learning of new homes being available. Producing more subsidized housing cannot reduce racial disparities if households of color do not have access to that housing, including those on the decades-long waiting lists at many local housing authorities. We must, therefore, peel back the layers to ensure that the harms of the past, including racial covenants and redlining, are not being replicated into the future.
One of the primary objectives of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was to prevent race-based discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. In 2021, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development restored the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision that was in the Fair Housing Act. The provision asks for the federal government to do more than prevent discrimination; it calls for actions that enable people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and families with children to have access to safe, decent and affordable housing in communities of their choice. We have a valu-able opportunity to take up AFFH on a statewide front to ensure that housing production, tenant protections and subsidized housing fulfill an ambitious and far-reaching racial equity and housing justice agenda.