What is Housing?
Housing meets the basic human need for shelter, and for most households is a major expense or investment leading to economic security or insecurity. Housing is also a fundamental building block of livable, vibrant communities, and when blighted, can be a source of community destabilization. Housing affordability and quality are important drivers of individual and business location decisions. While home prices reflect supply and demand in the housing market, the social and demographic characteristics of occupants are indicative of trends in socio-economic and racial/ethnic integration. Physical patterns of development – from transit-oriented to car-dependent – reflect and drive a community’s social equity and environmental sustainability. A range of affordable, safe and attractive options assist communities in attracting and retaining a wide range of workers.
THE HOUSING SECTOR IN BOSTON
Metropolitan Boston is home to more than 4.1 million people who comprise 1.7 million households. In the City of Boston, roughly 617,000 people reside in about 272,000 housing units. These range from one- and two-family homes and triple-deckers to subsidized housing units and developments, multi-family condos and mid- to high-rise apartment buildings.
The housing sector includes homeowners and renters, architects, developers, builders and the building trades, real estate agents, community development corporations, banks and mortgage companies, public housing authorities, public financing agencies and community-based advocacy groups.
Statewide, housing policies and programs are coordinated by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED). The EOHED provides funding for and sets policies relevant to affordable rental and ownership development, rental assistance management, public housing modernization and management and homelessness programs.
Other key players in the housing sector at the state level are quasi-public agencies. MassHousing was created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1966 and before 2001 was known as the Mass Housing Finance Agency (MHFA). It is an independent, self-supporting, not-for-profit public agency that, since 1970, has provided more than $13 billion in financing for homebuyers and homeowners and developers and owners of affordable rental housing, largely through the sale of bonds, and is one of the nation’s most accomplished housing finance agencies.
An important financing institution is The Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP). Established in 1985, MHP works with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to increase Massachusetts’ supply of affordable housing by providing long-term financing for development and preservation of affordable housing, soft second mortgages, and support for local housing initiatives. The Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) supports non-profit affordable housing development and preservation through professional expertise and seed funding for predevelopment costs. The Life Initiative (TLI), created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1998 with support from the life insurance industry and community development groups, provides capital to projects that benefit low and moderate income households. The Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, reinstated by the Patrick Administration in 2007, coordinates various departments through a “housing first” approach to ending homelessness, with a priority for preventing and ending homelessness among veterans and survivors of domestic violence.
Working alongside financing organizations are nonprofit organizations that bring the sector together and advocate for more effective public policies For example, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) is a statewide non-profit umbrella organization for affordable housing and community development activities that represents all interests in the housing field, from non-profit and for-profit developers, housing providers and advocates, lenders, property managers, architects, consultants, homeowners, tenants, local planners, foundation and government officials.
Other nonprofit housing groups focus on housing for specific constituencies. The Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP) is the state’s largest regional provider of rental voucher assistance to homeless, elderly, disabled, and low- and moderate-income residents, with services in Boston and 29 surrounding communities. The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance aligns the work of 90 community-based organizations serving homeless individuals through emergency, transitional and permanent housing programs, health services, employment and self-advocacy.
In the City of Boston, housing policies and planning are coordinated by the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), which works with non-profit and for-profit partners to develop and preserve affordable housing and support first-time homebuyers with educational courses and financial assistance. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is responsible for planning and approval of major developments. The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) houses approximately 10% of the city’s residents through senior and family public housing developments and section 8 voucher programs.
All three contributed to Leading the Way, Boston’s housing strategy for increasing the production of new housing, of which the latest iteration focuses on housing Boston’s workforce, addressing the foreclosure crisis, reversing the rise in homelessness and preserving and stabilizing Boston’s rental housing market. The efforts of DND, the BRA and the BHA are supplemented by Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission and the Fair Housing Commission, which respectively work to coordinate the city’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness and address housing discrimination.
Boston’s accomplished 26 community development corporations such as the Massachusetts Bay CDC, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), Allston-Brighton CDC, Urban Edge, Codman Square CDC -- play a significant role in housing production and preservation in Boston’s residential neighborhoods.
Another important organization is Boston Community Capital (BCC). BCC is a community development financial institution that provides a range of debt and equity products for investments in low income communities. Their housing initiatives include the Boston Community Loan Fund (BCLF) and the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods Initiative (SUN). The BCLF provides loans to nonprofit organizations, community development corporations and local developers to build affordable housing while the SUN initiative works to prevent the displacement of families and the neighborhood destabilizing effects of vacancy and abandonment triggered by foreclosures.
Private sector resources in the field include residential lending institutions from the nation’s largest banks and mortgage companies to local private investors, from independent banks, research institutions such as the Warren Group, which collects and compiles data on real estate sales and ownership throughout New England and manages a number of fee-based online tools and data products for understanding housing trends in the region, and trade associations such as the Greater Boston Association of Realtors to New England Women in Real Estate (NEWIRE) The Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC). MHIC, founded in 1990 by a consortium of banks as a nonprofit private investor and lender specializing in financing affordable housing and community development through New England, offers low-income housing tax credits (LITC), new market tax credits, neighborhood stabilization loans for foreclosed and abandoned properties and traditional lending to for-profit and non-profit developers of affordable housing.
Greater Boston is also home to academic programs and research institutes which focus on housing and community development – from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s New England Public Policy Center, Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing and Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy to MIT’s Center for Real Estate, UMass-Boston’s Center for Social Policy and Wellesley’s Karl Case, who with Robert Shiller produces Standard and Poor's respected Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.