The Community Rent Subsidy Coalition (CRSC) led by the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee (BHSC) and Save Our Section 8 / City Policy Committee (SOS8) have come together to protect low-income residents from displacement and house community members experiencing homelessness by advocating that the City of Boston launch a City Rent Subsidy Program.
This type of program works: we have seen it thrive in DC. Meanwhile, our housing waiting list is growing and more and more families are being displaced as Boston gentrifies. We cannot allow Boston to become a city solely for the rich. We cannot continue to allow families who have made our neighborhoods more vibrant, and built up our communities be displaced.
We cannot continue to allow community members to live in overcrowded shelters and on the streets.
We need housing, not warehousing. Not only is this program a humane solution to our related crisis of displacement and homelessness due to an extreme shortage of affordable housing, it is logical. A HUD study shows that housing-first is at least as cost effective as other options, and frequently more so.
On June 22, 2016, a delegation of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, Save Our Section 8/City Policy Committee, City Mission, Material Aid and Advocacy Program, Mel King and others, met with Mayor Walsh to urge inclusion of a $5 million pilot program for Housing First Subsidies, as proposed by nine City Councilors, in the 2016 city budget submission.
In our meeting, we proposed a flexible rental assistance program, modeled on the successful Local Rent Supplement Program in Washington, DC. The DC program dedicates $37 million from the regular city budget annually to fund 3,248 low-income families and individuals through a mix of project-based and tenant-based rental assistance, similar to the federal Section 8 program.
As in DC, we propose that the Boston Housing Authority administer the program locally; the BHA currently administers approximately 11,000 mobile Section 8 certificates and 2,500 “Project Based Vouchers”, the latter ensuring that low-income renters can live in new mixed income housing developments. As in DC, we propose that priority be given to currently homeless or near homeless Bostonians, to provide the “Housing First” called for in the Mayor’s Plan to End Chronic and Veterans Homelessness. As in DC, or more locally in Cambridge, we propose that Boston’s program pay 130% of FMR for mobile vouchers, to better enable recipients to find housing in the City.
Mayor Walsh did not include the $5 million for a pilot program to house 400+ individual residents and families experiencing homelessness in his 2016 city budget submission citing the lack of a sustainable funding source. He suggested the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and since then we have advocated for the CPA, which passed in November 2016, and identified four other sustainable funding sources which you can read about here.
In March of 2017, we had another meeting with Walsh to discuss the 5 sustainable funding sources and again he would not include the program in his FY18 budget suggesting that there are better options for housing and not agreeing that it can be sustainable.
Throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019 we organized call-in campaigns, mailings, standouts, and rallies; met with City Councilors and appointed officials; gained support from 11 of the 13 Councilors; testified at hearings; and continued to build power and expand the City Rent Subsidy Coalition to 32 member organizations.
After years of advocating for a City Rent Subsidy Program in Boston, the City Rent Subsidy Coalition celebrated a major victory January 7, 2020 at Mayor Martin J. Walsh's annual State of the City Address.
Acknowledging the ever-growing affordable housing crisis, the mayor announced Boston’s first ever city-funded rental vouchers so more low-income families of all configurations can be stable and secure. The program is a $5 million dollar pilot that fund homes for up to 500 families across the city!
Since June of 2020, core organizers of the City Rent Subsidy Coalition have been meeting the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to design the program. On February 1, 2021 the City of Boston launched the program. On May 19, 2022, the BHA released a snapshot of results so far. In the middle of the second year of the program, a total of 236 vouchers are currently obligated to households including elderly 13A tenants who were facing displacement as their buildings went market rate, formerly unhoused families, and families with members who experienced incarceration or who are non-citizens who are ineligible for other subsidies.
Following significant organizing, we won an additional $4.75Million / Year in the City of Boston's FY23 Budget - enough to provide permanent housing for up to 975 extremely low-income or unhoused families!
We will continue to fight for the City Rent Subsidy Program in other cities because we know that it's sustainable and it will help get people off the streets and into safe and affordable housing.