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Mayor Walsh unveils anti-displacement legislative agenda

The five-bill package seeks to help existing tenants remain in their home by expanding tenants' rights, rewarding good landlords, and creating additional funding for affordable housing.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced today that he will submit a package of legislation at the State House to address displacement of Boston residents from their homes. The five-bill package, sponsored by Senators DiDomenico, Dorcena Forry, and Boncore, along with Representatives Honan, Cullinane and Tyler, seeks to help existing tenants remain in their home by expanding tenants' rights, rewarding good landlords, and creating additional funding for affordable housing.

"Even as Boston sees historic levels of housing being built, we must make sure that no one is left behind. The people who have built this city into the thriving, attractive place it is today must be able to remain in their homes and neighborhoods, and we will not stop until we have significant protections in place for them," said Mayor Walsh. "I want to thank the legislators who took the lead on these bills for their wisdom in recognizing that displacement is not just a Boston problem, but also a statewide issue. I look forward to working with the State Legislature to ensure these bills are passed so that we can better protect our citizens' abilities to remain in their homes."

The bills in the Mayor's legislative package include:

An Act to Promote Homelessness Prevention in Massachusetts

Sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, this bill will make legal representation in eviction proceedings a right, rather than an option.  If a tenant can not afford his or her own attorney, one will be appointed by the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services.  

By offering tenants a higher likelihood of success in eviction proceedings by requiring legal representation, this bill will not only assist with housing and economic stability for families and individuals, but will also help alleviate homelessness by diverting people from having to enter the emergency shelter system.

Currently, only seven percent of tenants brought to Boston Housing Court receive some type of legal assistance while a majority of landlords have representation.

An Act Relative to Zoning in the City of Boston

Sponsored by Representative Kevin Honan, this legislation would allow the City to amend the zoning code, protecting the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) a critical policy that raise funds for affordable housing.  

The legislation would allow the city to add an Inclusionary Zoning Article to the zoning code, codifying the City's long-standing Inclusionary Zoning Policy (IDP).  Currently, the policy is triggered when a residential development project of 10 or more units needs a zoning variance.  As the zoning code is updated and areas of the city are rezoned, the proposed Inclusionary Zoning Article would ensure that IDP continues to apply and affordable units are created based on the size of the project and not the need for zoning relief.  

The Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act

Sponsored by Representative Chynah Tyler, this home rule petition would codify conditions under which landlords can evict a tenant or former homeowner living in their foreclosed unit. In addition, the petition also creates requirements for landlords to notify the City in case of eviction, allowing the City's Office of Housing Stability to proactively reach out to tenants to inform them of their rights.

Several exemptions are built into the proposed petition to protect landlords; for example, any units owned by a small landlord who is a Massachusetts resident owning fewer than seven rental units are exempt, as is temporary or transitional housing such as substance use treatment, recovery programs, and transitional housing for homeless individuals.

An Act Regarding Right of First Refusal in the Event of Foreclosure and Short Sales

Sponsored by Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Representative Daniel Cullinane, this bill will allow tenants and non-profits a right of first refusal to purchase properties subject to foreclosure or short sale at fair market value.  Lenders will be required to notify the City and tenants of the foreclosure.

This will help achieve the Walsh administration's goal of reducing displacement by affording renters and non-profits access to a property before it is placed on the fast-moving and competitive open market.

An Act Regarding State Income Tax Credit for Renting Unsubsidized Properties at Below Market Rents

Sponsored by Senator Joseph Boncore and Representative Kevin Honan, this bill incentivizes landlords to charge below-market rents by providing an income tax credit of $1,500 for landlords who provide unsubsidized units at below-market rents to qualifying households.  Establishing an incentive for landlords to maintain affordable rents is an important tool that can keep long term residents in their neighborhoods and can support long term social and financial stability for residents.

These proposals will be filed next week at the State House with the exception of the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act and an Act Relative to Zoning in the City of Boston because both require approval of the Boston City Council require before State action can be taken.

Mayor Walsh's legislative agenda is part of the Walsh administration's comprehensive anti-displacement strategy.  

After announcing its formation in the 2016 State of the City speech, the Office of Housing Stability, the first of its kind in the nation, formally opened in November.  The office is charged with researching the impacts of displacement in Boston, assisting tenants in danger of displacement, and promulgating new policies designed to prevent further displacement in the city.

In 2016, the Walsh administration also launched the Acquisition Opportunity Program, through which the City pre-qualifies non-profit organizations for funding so they may more quickly respond when affordably-priced properties come on the open market.  To date, sales have closed in East Boston, Roslindale, and Dorchester.

To further protect residents from losing their homes, the City's Boston Home Center also operates a nationally-respected foreclosure prevention program; since 2014, this program has helped 579 homeowners and 348 tenant households.  

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