Keep Fenway Affordable!

A packed City Council Housing Committee hearing yesterday on the urgent topic of affordable housing in the Fenway. Sara Brown writes at Boston.com:

“I don’t want to feel like I’m nobody just because I can’t afford to live here,” Ming Chang, who has lived in the Burbank Apartments since 1999, said during the hearing. “So many people will be priced out of the Fenway area.” . . .

Panels of Burbank and Fenway residents spoke personally about the importance of affordable housing in a neighborhood they said offers cultural diversity and proximity to schools, hospitals, and public transit . . . “The thought of losing this diversity is heart-rending to me,” said Joanne McKenna, the Board President of the Fenway Community Development Corporation. [Go Joanne!]

The apartment building “represents safety to me,” said Louvere Walker, who said she moved in to the Burbank Apartments after being the victim of dating violence and having financial trouble.

Sunni Ali, a member of the Fenway Community Development Corporation, spoke “as a person that years ago, came to this community as a homeless man and had a voucher and got an apartment here.” Now, he said, he is a graduate student and “I have somewhere I can lay my head.”

Other housing advocates argued that losing affordable housing would hurt the city’s ethnic and economic diversity. . . . Michael Stone, a professor of community planning at University of Massachusetts Boston, said a study of the socio-economic impact of the plan showed that minorities, the elderly, people with children and people with a disability would be particularly affected.

“If the rents charged to tenants at Burbank Apartments are permitted to be set by the speculative market, the fabric of this community will be torn irreparably,” he said.

This article gives a little too much space to the written response provided by Robert and William Kargman, the Burbank Apartments owners who are planning an imminent switch to market rate. They are offering “enhanced vouchers”—a different type of rent subsidy—to residents currently in subsidized apartments. But there are four serious problems with enhanced vouchers, and I spent two hours on the floor of the Susan Bailis Assisted Living Community meeting room so that I could tell you what they are.

  • Not everyone currently eligible for subsidized housing will qualify for an enhanced voucher.
  • The vouchers are not project-based. In other words, once someone on an enhanced voucher moves out of the building, that apartment is permanently lost to affordability. And, as Susan Dillon of the Mayor’s office so devastatingly pointed out last night, affordable housing created in better times is virtually impossible to replace today.
  • If your income goes up, even temporarily, you lose the voucher and will have to move. You can’t get the subsidy back if your income goes down again later.
  • The enhanced voucher program is particularly vulnerable to budget cuts.

I don’t know why the Kargmans are holding out like this (Mayor Menino, various City Councilors, and even HUD has asked them to reconsider). Pigheadedness, I guess. I am told that they can make full profits off the building, while maintaining affordabilty, under HUD’s Mark-Up-to-Market program (I could link, but I don’t think you want me to). But the main point to me here is that we’re all in this together. Affordable city housing isn’t something the other person needs, it’s something we all need and deserve. My own way of life is completely dependent on my affordable housing. Todo para todos, nada para nosotros, people. KEEP FENWAY AFFORDABLE!