Landmark Agreement Brings Property Managers, Tenant Advocates Together on Affordable Housing
Longstanding tension leads to breakthrough on housing costs in Boston
BOSTON – Tenant advocates and property managers today announced a landmark agreement to increase the availability of affordable housing in the Greater Boston area. Formally signed in May, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) [see attached] between City Realty Management,
City Life/Vida Urbana, and the Chinese Progressive Association was a long time in the making – following years of discord between the groups.
According to the agreement, City Realty Management will not raise Section 8 tenant rent beyond the Housing Authority Payment Standard – effectively placing a cap on cost increases that is tied to Fair Market Rent values determined by the U.S. government. City Realty manages a considerable portfolio of rental properties in the Boston area, with nearly half of its tenants utilizing housing subsidies. Other issues that were subject of the negotiations remain unresolved – including the affordability of non-Section 8 rents and other displacement issues affecting City Realty tenants
“For more than forty years, City Life has organized to combat predatory housing practices that displace homeowners and tenants in our communities,” said Maria Christina Blanco, an organizer with Jamaica Plain-based City Life/Vida Urbana. “This groundbreaking agreement makes significant strides in ensuring housing will remain affordable for hundreds of Boston-area families who rely on Section 8 vouchers – and thousands more stand to benefit as other property owners follow suit.”
City Life/Vida Urbana and Chinese Progressive Association had been publicly at odds with City Realty Management for years leading up to an October 2014 public hearing on displacement, sponsored by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury). But after the hearing, the real estate firm and community organizers began meeting to discuss their differences in earnest, opening a dialogue on shared goals of stemming displacement and increasing the availability of affordable housing. Hosted by Jackson and State Representative Liz Malia (Jamaica Plain), the series of negotiation sessions that ensued led to significant breakthroughs on rent affordability for vulnerable, low-income tenants who rely on the Section 8 program.
“Section 8 tenants stand to lose their homes from rising rents, so we’ve been working hard on this issue,” said Edna Willrich, Director of Section 8 Tenants, Inc. “We’re glad a landlord has stepped up to limit rents to the payment standard, and look forward to other owners working together with us to preserve families’ homes.”
Greater Boston Legal Services, which was involved in the discussions, has noted a general uptick in evictions of Section 8 tenants due to rising rental costs. The rapidly evolving rental market has diminished the value of Section 8 vouchers, rending significant swaths of properties unaffordable in a few short years. Yet programs like Section 8 are among the few tools available to ensure housing affordability for low-income families.
“With one in four Massachusetts renters paying more than half their income toward rent, housing subsidy programs are more vital than ever for low-income individuals and families,” said Susan Nohl, deputy director of the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, the state’s largest provider of rental assistance vouchers. “I applaud City Realty for taking this step."
The landmark agreement between advocates and property owners may also signal good news for thousands of other housing-insecure residents if other real estate companies follow suit. The City Life-City Realty MOU has already prompted discussions between tenant advocates and other property managers – negotiations which have proved promising in recent weeks. Local elected officials and community leaders expressed hope that the new MOU will serve as a blueprint for future affordable housing agreements.
“Our Section 8 families clearly benefit when property owners agree to keep rents within the boundaries of HUD’s Fair Market Rents and local payment standards,” said Bill McGonagle, head of the Boston Housing Authority. “I commend the organizations for coming to this agreement, and would encourage other property owners to do the same.”
To download the Memorandum of Understanding between City Life/Vida Urbana, Chinese Progressive Association, and City Realty, click here.
To download a summary and links providing background on the Section 8 voucher subsidy program and related affordability controversy, click here.
To download a chart showing the rents landlords would be able to charge through the Section 8 program in the Boston area under an agreement such as the one signed 5.19.15 between CLVU, CPA, and CRM, click here.
City Life/Vida Urbana is a grassroots community organization committed to fighting for racial, social and economic justice and gender equality by building working class power. We promote individual empowerment, develop community leaders and build collective power to effect systemic change and transform society. For more information, visit http://clvu.org.