Mayoral Candidate Barros Makes Case for Deed-Restricted Affordable Housing

Mayoral hopeful John Barros believes that rather than rent control, deed-restricted affordable housing is instead the solution to fulfilling the city’s current housing needs.

Housing hasn’t kept with up population growth in the city, according to Barros, while rents have increased, resulting in the displacement of many families who could no longer afford to live in Boston. But as he outlines in his July 13 op ed in Commonwealth Magazine, Barros believes rent-control regulations that freeze existing rates for some renters would do more harm than good when it comes to meeting the current housing demand in Boston.

Cities, such as New York and San Francisco, he wrote, have seen the adverse impacts of rent control, including that if housing supply can’t meet demand while rents increase, the potential results are “higher rent, more displacement, and reduced economic growth.”

While Barros expects rent control would undoubtedly benefit residents living in Boston’s luxury apartment buildings by capping annual rent increases for them, it would offer no relief to families that already can’t afford the current costs of rentals in the city, which are already more than they can afford. This hardship would also be especially true for immigrant families and for other new arrival to Boston, added Barros, who himself is the son of immigrants from Cape Verde that were able to purchase a home and raise their family in Boston.

Before becoming the city’s chief of economic development under former Mayor Martin Walsh, Barros served as executive director of the nonprofit, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, which, he wrote, “led the creation of the largest urban land trust in the country to protect the Dudley community from displacement and built 225 permanently affordable homes.”

Based on his experience, Barros believes that rent control would discourage developers from building more mixed-income housing, which provides much of the city’s affordable housing stock. So instead, more prospective homeowners would be competing for the same, limited number of properties in the city, and that would continue to drive their costs up, he wrote.

The solution, according to Barros, is for the city to focus on building housing across all levels – affordable, middle income, and market-rate – with affordable housing that’s deed restricted to stay truly affordable.

“From higher-density building near transit and neighborhood amenities, to making sure that our colleges and universities are building more dorms for their undergraduate and graduate students, to streamlining the permitting process to reduce the cost of building affordable housing, we have the tools to increase the production of housing that’s affordable for people of all income levels,” wrote Barros.

These tools, he added, include “increasing city resources for homeownership programs, to supporting the acquisition of land and creation of affordable housing by community land trusts, to using more city-owned land for affordable homes, to create neighborhood investment funds that allow residents to invest in real estate being developed in their neighborhoods.”

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