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Boston to Help Affordable Housing Developers Rethink Vacant Lots

(Photo by Nelson48)

In a market where buildable land goes quickly to private developers paying cash — or investors who sit on the property and wait for its value to rise — nonprofit builders are at a definite disadvantage. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wants to level that building field, and his administration has announced an $8.5 million program designed to help nonprofits acquire parcels for affordable housing.

The city plans to contribute $2.5 million to the loan fund, with $6 million coming from the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Boston Globe reports. The program is aimed at underutilized chunks of neighborhood around Boston close to public transportation.

“If you can buy an unused parking lot in, say, Egleston Square for $1 million and put a 40- or 50-unit building on it, that’s kind of the sweet spot,” Sheila Dillon, chief of housing for Mayor Walsh, told the Globe. “We need to take things out of the speculative market.”

The program is similar to another one that the city announced last year to help nonprofits buy apartment buildings. According to the Globe, results of that program have been mixed with some success in East Boston and Roslindale. But in other neighborhoods, the money offered hasn’t gone far enough.

Like other cities struggling with the many flip sides of a hot housing market — skyrocketing rents, displacement, homelessness — Boston has gotten creative in the last few years. In 2016, voters chose to adopt the Massachusetts state Community Preservation Act (CPA), which allows municipalities to add a small surcharge to their property taxes to fund affordable housing, open space acquisition and historic preservation. As Next City has reported, the city had previously opted out of the agreement, under which the state can match local dollars by up to 30 percent.

Walsh has also made housing a legislative priority, promising to address the city’s housing shortage by building 53,000 new homes by 2030, although questions remain about how he plans to go about doing that without causing displacement — a worry that’s especially prevalent in black communities like Dudley Square.