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Policy Change Aims to Expand Housing Options for Low-Income Renters

Policy Change Aims to Expand Housing Options for Low-Income Renters

Boston, MA– Boston is not a cheap city to live in. In fact, Boston consistently ranks within the top 5 most expensive cities to rent apartments in, and recently as high as third-most expensive. Average monthly rent? $3,388. And that's not getting any cheaper. With new high-rises and expensive neighborhoods expanding into historically lower-income ones, Boston is on the brink of a housing crisis within the next few years. There have been many large-scale ideas in order to combat some of these problems, but none have gained much traction yet.

Even so, lawmakers are hoping some smaller, incremental changes can help those low-income renters in the short term. “Poor folks ought to have choices about where they live and raise their families, just as folks with money do," said Boston Housing Authority chief Bill McGonagle. "So this will enable that pretty common sense principle."

So, what's the idea?

Simply put: housing choice vouchers. These vouchers are basically subsidies for families across Boston. You apply for a voucher, and if accepted, the BHA helps subsidize your rent so you can continue living in your neighborhood. The issue is, this program already exists. The new change is all about zip codes.

As we all know, rent in different neighborhoods of Boston vary dramatically. Under the current system, there is a standard amount that the BHA is able to help pay. But for example, $500 means a lot more to a family renting in Dorchester than one who lives in Downtown. Thus, they want to increase the total subsidy amount based off how much rents costs per neighborhood.

“It was not allowing families to live where they want to live,” Dillon said. “There were only a handful of neighborhoods where the market rates were the same as the voucher rents."

It's quite surprising that this was even an issue in the first place. It's obvious to anyone who lives here that a 2-bedroom across from the Boston common is going to be much harder to keep your family in than one 30 minutes away on the green line. The update to the housing voucher program is expected to take effect by July, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Jameslwoodward