Adding more housing units is key for new head of Boston Housing Authority

Download Audio
Former Boston City Councilor Kenzie is the new administrator of the Boston Housing Authority. She is photographed at the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments, in Jamaica Plain. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Former Boston City Councilor Kenzie is the new administrator of the Boston Housing Authority. She is photographed at the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments, in Jamaica Plain. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston's largest housing provider has a new leader. This week, former Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok begins her role as administrator of the Boston Housing Authority, the agency that oversees the city's affordable housing.

She joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy to talk about her vision for increasing affordable housing and directing more resources to the problem.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On her philosophy and the direction she'd like to take the agency in

"I think that public housing is a critical public good. It's, to me, as central as the availability of public libraries, public transit ... We all know that things can happen in our lives. We can lose a job. We can get sick. And the question is, does that create a domino effect where we also lose our housing? Or are we secure and able to stay in our communities?

"Obviously, we struggle with the fact that we don't have enough of the resources to meet demand. So even when we're providing the best customer service possible, we're still telling you, in the case of public housing, that you're on a 37,000-person waitlist, which is tough, and it's why I'm so committed to adding units."

On her plan to address the city's years-long waitlist

"So it does come back to adding units. The reality is that in Boston, for a long time, we've had a commitment at the [Boston Housing Authority] to prioritizing housing folks out of homelessness. We're really focused on dealing with families who are in crisis. I think that's really critical. It means that our average new public housing tenant in Boston is much lower income than some other housing authorities nationwide. Unfortunately, that means that if you are stably housed and on the waitlist, you can wait a very long time indeed.

"It gets back to the fact that our housing ladder is broken today in Boston. I think of myself as stewarding rungs zero, one and two of the housing ladder. But what we find is even our folks in public housing who are doing well, who are earning more money, there's no rung three, four, five, six — there's nowhere for folks to move on to, and so then we don't free up spaces on the waitlist. To me, it gets back to the fact that all of the housing market in Boston is connected. It means that even as we do our part to add new public housing units, there's also got to be new middle income units, new market rate units that come on so that there's spaces for everyone."

"Our housing ladder is broken today in Boston."

On how she's emotionally dealing with all the challenges of this role

"It's the big hard job that I want to be doing. [Housing] is the critical issue for the city of Boston. I always say that it doesn't matter how wonderful we make the city of Boston if Bostonians can't live here, can't stay here. So I think, for me, emotionally, it's actually a huge relief to just be working on the main thing. I find that I don't, therefore, worry about it because it's what I spend every minute doing."

On what gives her so much passion for this work

"I love Boston. Boston is a city that's diverse and that people can live their whole lives in and that people of every walk of life can live in, and is not gatekept by income or race. And my grandfather was really invested in the affordable housing world, and actually helped found a lot of the organizations that I work with now. And my dad was involved in getting transitional housing sited in our neighborhood that's still there today. So I grew up very much thinking, from a kind of family perspective, that people living in the city is the key building block to having a great city."

On her plan to direct more city resources to the Boston Housing Authority

"Yes, this is critical for me. I actually came from representing the wealthiest city council district, right? It runs [through] West End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill. And that district also includes most of the universities, hospitals, museums and sports teams as well.

"Going from that to being BHA administrator just really underscored for me that Boston is a city full of resources, but they don't always get into our public housing communities. Putting the BHA at the heart of every city department decision, every institutional resource allocation — that's got to be one of my main goals as the administrator."

This segment aired on August 10, 2023.


Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.


Laney Ruckstuhl Field Producer
Laney Ruckstuhl is the field producer for Morning Edition. She was formerly a digital producer.



More from WBUR

Listen Live