While most of us know that housing in the Boston area is getting more and more expensive, you may not have realized that between 2000 and 2007 Boston was the most rapidly gentrifying city in the country, outpacing both New York and Washington, D.C.
And the rate of gentrification is not the only challenge that Boston residents face. A study released in January 2016 by The Brookings Institution found that Boston has the greatest income inequality of any large city in the United States.
Based on 2014 census data, households that earned in the 95th percentile made just over $266,000, while households earning in the 20th percentile made just under $15,000. The only other cities to come close to this income gap were New Orleans and Atlanta.
Profit-Driven Policies Lead to Displacement
That means that not only are lower-income neighborhoods in Boston changing very quickly, but that low-wage workers simply can’t compete with higher income earners. As East Boston resident, Kim Lampeurer said in a video of testimonials produced by community group and Right to Remain coalition member, City Life/Vida Urbana “only 8% of people that currently in East Boston would be able to afford the kinds of rents” that developers are asking for in the new luxury apartments being put up along the waterfront.
Boston is in the midst of a displacement crisis with no anti-displacement policy or plan in place. And it’s important to remember that this housing crisis is not simply the product of individuals moving into new developments, but of profit-driven policies that favor middle- and upper-class developers over the livelihood of longtime working-class residents, especially residents of color.
According to the Boston Globe, over the past few decades Boston granted approximately 140 tax breaks for about 600 parcels of land. While some argue that tax breaks are key in driving economic growth, until recently the city did no projections on the cost to taxpayers or evaluation of public benefits. So there’s no way to assess the long-term impact that many of these tax breaks have had on the city.
The Globe found that 10 major tax deals signed since 2008, however, totaled an estimated $78 million dollars in lost tax revenue. And going forward, the Walsh administration has said it will track the cost of future tax deals. This is an important step because tax breaks can drive up taxes for residents, but tracking impact is not enough. We need a comprehensive plan – with policies like Just Cause Eviction – to combat displacement.
Currently, landlords can evict tenants at “no fault.” This means that renters in market-rate housing can be evicted – without any reason given, and without having done anything to cause or deserve the loss of their housing.
Profit-driven policies favor middle and upper class developers over the livelihood of longtime working-class residents.”
Addressing the Displacement Crisis
Given the high rates of income inequality and gentrification, public officials need to step up and implement policy changes to ensure that working-class and middle-income residents can remain in their homes. Neighborhoods of color, especially, are being disproportionately affected. More than 4,500 households experienced foreclosure over a six-year period in Boston.
That’s why the Right to Remain Coalition has grown over the last year calling for a Just Cause Eviction ordinance to be passed an emergency measure to address the displacement crisis. The measure would stabilize neighborhoods by protecting tenants (including foreclosed homeowners) from eviction by absentee landlords or banks without a legitimate reason. And stable neighborhoods lead to greater financial health and fewer credit delinquencies.
By enacting Just-Cause Eviction, Boston would be joining the ranks of many of cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C, that have used similar measures effectively. A healthy city is not only about million dollar condos. It’s a city that supports workers and working people.