Investing in home equity = investing in health
AS HEALTH PROFESSIONALS and affordable housing experts, we strongly support Mayor Michelle Wu recently proposed The Inclusive Development Policy increases and link fees for lab space. Increased funding for affordable housing will lead to improved housing equity in the city and lead to significant positive impacts on the health outcomes of individuals and the communities they represent.
The Inclusive Development Policy requires developers to set aside a percentage of new units for affordable housing or, alternatively, pour into a funding pool designed to support affordable housing development projects elsewhere in Boston. The policy has been around since 2000 and has since created more than 3,000 affordable housing units. However, the housing crisis has not abated and in many ways has worsened since the pandemic. Rapidly rising rent prices have placed Boston above San Francisco as the nation’s second-highest rental price for a bedroom based on National Zumper Rent Report.
To better address this issue, the mayor recently called for critical and timely updates to the policy, including increases to the percentage of affordable housing required under the policy. Specifically, the proposal calls for lowering the threshold from ten to seven units, requiring all projects to meet the threshold to implement inclusive development, regardless of the need for zoning relief. For rental developments, the policy would increase the affordable housing component from 13% to 20% and lower the overall level of affordable income.
At the same time, Boston offered higher link fees for lab space. The bonding policy, established in 1983, currently applies to projects over 100,000 square feet of commercial space and levies a fee for square footage beyond that. However, the outdated formula for calculating these fees has not kept up with inflation and skyrocketing development costs.
In recent years, new, highly profitable laboratory buildings have exploded across the city. Under the proposed policy change, developers would pay more per square meter to develop lab spaces. These funds would, in turn, be used to preserve existing affordable housing projects and advance future affordable development projects. Together, these policies would create more affordable housing across the city at squeezed rents, provide greater upward mobility for low-income residents, and improve health outcomes for residents of our community.
The implications of these policies are manifold. Basically, investing in home equity space represents an essential investment in public health. Housing insecurity is increasingly recognized as a key determinant of health care outcomes and has been associated with increased rates of mental health problems, chronic illnesses and reduced life expectancy. Homelessness and housing insecurity increase the risk of exposure to environmental toxins, extreme temperature hazards, disease, and gender-based violence. THE persistent fear of eviction and lack of stable housing can lead to chronic, biologically embedded stress and anxiety, exacerbating long-standing health problems such as asthma, hypertension and heart disease. These problems are compounded from generation to generation, as children who experience housing insecurity face cognitive and physical health issues that persist into adulthood.
At a societal level, providing support to the most vulnerable among us is both an ethical responsibility and an opportunity to improve the communities in which we live, grow, work and play. Advancing housing equity has the potential to foster diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, encourage a strong community, enhance individual and collective social capital, and improve the well-being of all residents. The need to expand access to affordable housing is even more acute, particularly following a 300,000 people, who will lose health insurance through MassHealth after COVID-19 funding streams end.
It is essential to recognize that these health-related consequences are just that – consequences – a symptom of the societal disenfranchisement of vulnerable people rather than an individual failure. We must recognize our roles, privileges and opportunities before us to fill the gaps. The proposed Inclusive Development Policy changes and link fee reforms therefore represent an opportunity to advance housing justice and ensure that all new developments contribute in some way to a vision share of a more affordable city and better health. Boston can lead the way for equitable housing reform and a progressive move toward a healthier society.
Jarone Lee is a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-founder and president of Health Tech Without Borders, Inc. Aditya Narayan is a medical student and Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford School of Medicine. Angie Liou is executive director of the Asian Community Development Corporation. Raymond Liu is vice president of Mass General Brigham Global Advisory.
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