I began my career in housing first working with individuals facing homelessness in California at Sacramento Loaves and Fishes and then as a housing advocate for the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance in Boston. The work showed me that housing is about more than finding a place to live.
Stable housing plays a role in creating a solid foundation for improving someone’s health and their ability to receive support for mental health issues, recovery and addiction, and trauma. Reliable housing can also enable connections to transportation, education, and work opportunities. COVID-19 has only made the work of providing housing more difficult and important. Therefore, we must take immediate action to ensure stable housing for all in Boston that is both affordable and accessible.
Massachusetts passed an eviction moratorium in April which sadly ended on October 17. Renters may now be required to face eviction proceedings in housing court. The state legislature should pass an extension of the eviction ban, An Act to Guarantee Housing Stability During the COVID-19 Emergency and Recovery (H.4878), filed by state Representatives Mike Connolly (D-26th Middlesex) and Kevin Honan (D-17th Suffolk) to forbid evictions at least until December 31, preferably until the pandemic ends.
In Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh has taken steps during the pandemic to protect renters. The city is working to extend protections throughout 2020 through a moratorium on non-essential evictions at Boston Housing Authority properties and through the creation of a pledge by some of Boston’s largest landlords to not evict tenants. The city has also established an $8 million Rental Relief Fund that will help qualifying Bostonians remain housed and is also requiring that Boston landlords serving eviction notices include materials outlining renter’s legal rights. The city’s efforts are commendable, but they do not lessen the need for state action.
Affordability is crucial, but we must ensure that the city’s housing stock is also as accessible as possible. For many, especially seniors and people with disabilities, the search for housing poses multiple challenges of finding a place to live that one can both afford and also physically navigate. There are many older housing structures in Boston that are not accessible to those with mobility impairments and that are not required to be made so. Thankfully, there is pending legislation, The Accessible Massachusetts Act (H.4425), sponsored by state Representatives Christine Barber (D-34th Middlesex, Liz Malia (D-11th Suffolk), and Michael Moran (D-18th Suffolk) and state Senator Mike Moore (D-2nd Worcester) that would ensure that older buildings undergoing rehabilitation will create units that can be adapted to meet the needs of seniors and people with disabilities, something not currently required by law.
COVID-19, by killing so many in congregate care settings has tragically spotlighted the need for home-based care and this legislation. Ensuring that housing is affordable and accessible will be a key priority in my campaign for Boston At- Large City Councilor in 2021. As someone who is blind, I benefit daily from living in Jamaica Plain and having walking access to public transportation, shops, and restaurants. Passing H.4878 and H.4425 will take two important steps towards increasing housing access and stability for all Bostonians.
Alex Gray is a Jamaica Plain resident and a Boston At-Large City Council candidate in 2021. He currently works for the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.