Support City Funded Rent Subsidies for Housing First!
$5 million a year is sustainable.
The Mayor’s proposed $3.2 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2018, includes only $14 million for housing, not counting federal grants and city trust funds. A $5 million annual increase for City Rent Subsidies is less than 0.2% of the city budget.
Boston should also consider earmarking new property revenues from $1 million+ condos - that pay $10,480 per million each year to the City—to expand the program. Taxes from each million in condo value are enough to fund one person in a project based subsidy unit for a year. The $10.9 million in property tax revenues from Millennium Towers alone would fund up to 1,000 Rent Subsidies annually, on a sustainable basis, to give community members experiencing homelessness a stable home.
Housing is a Right and should be a priority for City funds.
Administration representatives have raised concerns about the “sustainability” of vouchers: once begun, it would be difficult to reduce funds. But that is true for any other essential city service - the question is, whether Boston will treat housing and the alleviation of homelessness as a priority.
Ten City Councilors, led by Councilors Josh Zakim and Andrea Campbell, have urged Mayor Marty Walsh to include $5 million in the City’s FY2019 budget to launch a Housing First Voucher program for 400+ Boston households experiencing homelessness.
Meet Boston’s rental housing needs.
A Boston Rent Subsidy program would help address the needs of low-income renters identified in the Mayor’s Housing Plan. More than 60% of Boston’s residents are below 50% of the Area Median Income; half earn below $35,000 per year.
The Mayor’s Plan at present does not include a single net new unit of low income housing for families and individuals. Instead, the Plan provides for 1,700 low income subsidies in new family housing by taking 1,700 Section 8 Vouchers from the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), and converting them to “Project Based Vouchers” attached to new housing - robbing Peter to pay Paul. City funded subsidies would correct this by providing for a net increase in low income units, and also help offset the reduction in federal Section 8 subsidies since 2010.
Reduce shelter overcrowding.
25% of Boston residents experiencing homelessness are employed. By providing Housing Firs, these community members are able to stand on their own two feet. City Rent Subsidies would open up shelter space for people currently forced to sleep in overflow shelters or on the streets. City Subsidies would ensure the success of the City’s Action Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, while this Plan mentions Housing First, it does not provide enough to meet the need.
A City Funded Rent Subsidy program will save money.
By reducing public safety, health and social service costs a city funded rend subsidy program will save money. A recent HUD study confirmed that providing Section 8 type rental Vouchers for Housing First is at least as cost-effective in reducing homelessness as either emergency shelters or supportive housing.
If DC can do it, why can’t we?
Our proposal is modeled on the successful Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) in Washington, DC. From the outset, the DC program set aside subsidies for Housing First. Started in 2007 from Washington’s city budget, the LRSP in 2015 served 3,248 households earning less than 30% of the Area Media Income (AMI), at an annual cost of $37 million. The program has only been expanded since its inception, funded annually from the city’s general revenues for all but two years. Locally, the City of Waltham has recently voted to establish a similar subsidy program, serving 50 households, utilizing Community Preservation Act funds.
The Boston Housing Authority can do it.
Like the LRSP, we propose a Boston program with a flexible mix of “Project-based” subsidies and “Tenant based” Vouchers, administered by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). The BHA has experience administering 13,500 federal Section 8 Vouchers, including 20% which are Project Based, and has experience targeting subsidies for special needs housing with supportive services. Our plan will provide a funding source for the low income units in the BHA’s new mixed income housing developments being converted under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration, as well as for increased low income units in new mixed income housing across the city.
Tailor it to Boston.
As in DC, we propose that a Boston Rent Subsidy Program be restricted to Boston residents, and used mostly for “project-based” subsidies. Mobile vouchers would be restricted for use within the city’s limits. Enabling legislation could allow the BHA to set “payment standards” to landlords up to 130% of HUD’s Fair Market Rent (FMR) or higher, making it easier for renters to find housing in gentrifying Boston.