Increasing Housing Affordability in Boston: Why it Matters to Us All

November 30, 2021
Click here to watch the Forum

On November 30, NABB and the Boston Public Library partnered to broadcast a citywide forum highlighting the city’s housing affordability crisis and the unprecedented opportunities expected soon through new housing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and national infrastructure legislation. During the 90- minute zoom session, key civic and business leaders gave presentations and answered the public’s questions. Key takeaways are:

*Housing costs in Boston have increased in large part due to strong business growth over the last 10 or so years without a match in resources for affordable housing development. Only a small percentage of Bostonians currently own rather than rent homes.
*The historic effects of zoning discrimination and “Redlining” have contributed to a great disparity in home ownership between whites and persons of color. This has created a major barrier for people of color to build generational wealth. 
*Without new building in Boston, there will be no affordable residences for low- income individuals, seniors on fixed income, many people of color, and front- line workers such as nurses and firefighters.
*Mayor Michelle Wu and her staff are planning to soon release an ambitious plan to increase Boston’s housing affordability. Finding land is a challenge but the city is looking at currently owned structures to perhaps build on. Meanwhile, until more housing is in place, rent relief programs will be needed to keep evictions at bay and maintain housing stability in the city.
*Innovative solutions and additional public support and advocacy are needed to efficiently address the shortfall in Boston’s affordable housing. Any delay in construction increases building costs and waiting times for persons in urgent need. The delays then lead to health and other problems emanating from housing instability which then require other public interventions. 
         This forum was initiated by the NABB Homelessness Task force (HTF) in accord with its mission to reduce the impact of homelessness. We would like to recognize the generous partnership of the City leaders including our City Councilor Kenzie Bok in helping to craft the forum and in speaking. We are also grateful to the Boston Public Library which supported production and the Boston Guardian and the Boston Sun which provided publicity.  The Forum was moderated by NABB President Patricia Corrigan.
The Panelists were:

  • Thomas N. O’Brien, Former Director/ Boston Redevelopment Authority, Former Chair of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board; Managing Director/HYM Investment Group, LLC 
  • Kenzie Bok, Boston City Councilor, Chair of the Council Ways and Means Committee 
  • Symone Crawford, Incoming Executive Director, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
  • Sheila Dillon, City of Boston Director of Housing and Neighborhood Development 

About the panelists:
Thomas N. O’Brien is the Founding Partner and Managing Director of The HYM Investment Group, LLC. HYM is currently leading the development of over twenty (20) million square feet of mixed-use development in Greater Boston, including the following notable and complex projects: Bulfinch Crossing (the redevelopment of the Government Center Garage), Suffolk Downs and Welltower’s Balfour at Brookline. Prior to HYM, O’Brien served as a Managing Partner for JPI, a national developer and owner of multifamily communities, and as a Managing Director in Boston and New York for Tishman Speyer, one of the world’s leading real estate firms. O’Brien also led the Boston Redevelopment Authority as its Director and Chief of Staff, overseeing the development of over 12 million Square Feet of projects in Boston, from 1994 to 2000. O’Brien has served as Chairman of The Greater Boston Real Estate Board and is Vice Chair of the Board of Overseers of The Anti-Defamation League of New England, which awarded O’Brien its Abraham Joshua Heschel Interfaith Relations Award in 2016. In 2011, Governor Deval Patrick appointed O’Brien to the Board of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency. In 2016, Mayor Martin J. Walsh appointed O’Brien to the Board of Trustees of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy and he also serves as a Board Member of the Pine Street Inn and on the Building Committee of The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. O’Brien is a graduate of Brown University and Suffolk University Law School, and is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.

Symone Crawford joined Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance staff in 2018 after serving on the board of directors since 2014.  Symone lives in Mattapan and worked for Encompass Insurance for seventeen years, most recently as a claims service leader. She serves on the state’s Racial Equity Advisory Council for Homeownership (REACH) and as secretary of the board of the Midas Collaborative.  Symone is an immigrant from the island of Jamaica, migrating to the United States in 1998 and coming to Boston in 1999. She is a graduate of Roxbury Community College, Northeastern University, and Southern New Hampshire University’s online MBA finance concentration program. She is very passionate about her faith, her family, and the needs of her community.

Kenzie Bok is a lifelong Bostonian who grew up in the small downtown neighborhood of Bay Village. She cares passionately about making Boston a great city for people from all walks of life and all stages of life to flourish and put down roots. With a background in affordable housing, budget analysis, and civic engagement, Councilor Bok was elected to represent District 8 on the Boston City Council on November 5, 2019. Her district includes Mission Hill, Longwood, Audubon Circle, Fenway, Kenmore, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the West End. Councilor Bok serves as the Chair of the Council’s Ways & Means Committee and its new PILOT Reform Committee, and she is also vice-chair of the Housing & Community Development and Community Preservation Act Committees.

Sheila A. Dillon is currently the Chief of Housing for the City of Boston and the Director of the Department of Neighborhood Development. In this role she oversees the management of the Boston Home Center, Neighborhood Housing Development, Real Estate Management and Sales, and spearheads the City’s efforts around housing Boston’s homeless. In addition, she leads the Office of Housing Stability, which is charged with protecting residents’ tenancies in Boston’s competitive real estate market.   Prior to her current appointment, Sheila served as the Director of the Bureau of Rental Assistance at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition to her work in government, Sheila was the Director of Real Estate at the Massachusetts Housing Partnership and the Director of Development for the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation.   She currently lives in Boston with her husband and two children.