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City Councilor: Boston Is Leaving Millions In Housing Dollars On The Table

The city of Boston could be leaving tens of millions in federal housing dollars on the table each year — and one city councilor wants to change that.

Councilor Kenzie Bok — an affordable housing expert whose district includes Beacon Hill and Fenway --  says if Boston could find a way to build 2,500 more affordable housing units, the feds would have to foot the rent.

"I think people have gotten used to the idea that we don't add public housing units, we only lose them," Bok said. "And it just doesn't have to be true."

While Boston may be eligible for far more housing dollars than it currently receives, it's the city that has to figure out how to build the subsidy-eligible units.

Bok wants to take advantage of the so-called "Faircloth Limit," a controversial law enacted in 1999 that capped the number of federal housing units in American cities at 1999 levels. In Boston, that means 12,086 units are eligible for federal subsidies — and Bok said the city has actually decreased the number of qualifying units by nearly 2,500 since the limit was set.

Bok estimates that the city could be entitled to some $40 million annually compared to what it's currently getting.

As part of the effort to fix that, the Boston Housing Authority has commissioned a study to determine where they could add units. And the Department of Neighborhood Development plans to look at how private housing developers could create units that would be eligible to receive the money.

“As we’ve aggressively pursued Mayor Walsh’s Housing Plan over the past seven years, we’ve felt the especially urgent need to increase the number of affordable units available to our lowest-income Bostonians,” said Sheila Dillon, Boston's housing chief, in a statement. “The Faircloth proposal by Councilor Bok is potentially a powerful way to achieve that deeper affordability."

Bok said new units built don't have to be concentrated in a particular area, the way "traditional public housing developments" are sited.

"We could add units there, but we could also add units on top of a library [for example]," she said, adding that she wants to further fair housing in all of Boston's neighborhoods.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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