“This comes only after several months of activism by community and tenant organizers focused on exposing the corrupt neglect and mismanagement of the apartments.”
As you’ll read about in this week’s feature section in the paper (and online at digboston.com next week), Boston is about two decades into privatizing its public housing stock. It’s been a slow deliberate and calculated movement that has happened in plain sight with most media smiling and playing along, and has already resulted in thousands of units formerly managed by the Boston Housing Authority moving into the hands of private firms.
It’s up for debate what newly elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu can do about that momentum. But last week, her administration showed its commitment to actually investing municipal dollars in public housing rather than just letting private partners take all the risk and reward. Specifically, Wu announced $50 million in funding for the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain. That’s in addition to $13 million the BHA has allocated to make additional capital repairs there over the next several years. More from the mayor’s office:
“With the new investment, the Boston Housing Authority is planning to address plumbing, ventilation, windows, and kitchen and bathroom improvements in 526 public housing units. These investments will improve air quality, prevent environmental health hazards like mold and mildew, and increase energy efficiency, advancing Mayor Wu’s commitment to climate action through a Green New Deal agenda. The Boston Housing Authority aims to begin work within the year. This new funding for renovations, along with the planned redevelopment, will ensure that the entire site is sustainable.”
“Today was an exciting recognition of the legacy of activism and leadership at Mildred Hailey and the legacy and activism of housing and tenants rights activists across the city and beyond,” Mayor Wu said. “We plan to make affordable housing a top priority when it comes to putting federal recovery money to use. That means preserving and improving affordable housing that already exists, as well as adding more affordable housing options for residents across the city. This is an investment that builds on generations of work that advocates and tenant leaders have done to improve quality of life for our residents.”
“I cannot overstate how important this investment is for residents here at Mildred C. Hailey Apartments,” Yolanda Torres, president of the Mildred C. Hailey Tenant Task Force said in a statement. “I want to thank the Mayor for making an investment that will make life better for hundreds of residents in my community.”
Not everyone is so impressed though. The anti-privatization housing advocacy group United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), which features prominently in our upcoming investigation into public housing in Boston, released the following statement about the Mildred Hailey announcement along with the video below …
On January 20, Mayor Michelle Wu held a press conference with almost no residents in attendance at the Mildred Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain. She announced $50 million in funding to repair parts of the development as well as an executive order on “fair housing.”
This comes only after several months of activism by community and tenant organizers focused on exposing the Boston Housing Authority’s corrupt neglect and mismanagement of the apartments. This is a big victory for tenant organizing and shows that funding to repair public housing can be won if people come together to fight. It also shows that the government is not being honest when they say that there is no money to repair public housing and that therefore privatization and Section 8 conversions are the only solution.
However, in spite of flowery words from officials that “public housing is our future,” the city and Boston Housing Authority (BHA) have not changed their plans to privatize public housing at Mildred Hailey and around Boston. BHA is still going ahead with their plans to replace 8 buildings at Mildred Hailey with Section 8 and unsubsidized apartments under private management and ownership. What was also deceptively left out of the speeches and news coverage is that another $17 million have been set aside for “future development”. This almost certainly means future phases of privatization, which would make public housing in this complex a thing of the past.
The deceptiveness does not end there, however. Though the Mayor’s executive order was celebrated by the media as a major step for “fair and affordable housing,” the order itself doesn’t even mention affordable housing and it certainly says nothing about protecting or expanding public housing. Instead, it talks about “replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns” and “transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity.” This is just an updated version of the racist “de-concentration of poverty” language that has been used by politicians for decades to justify the destruction of public housing and make way for unaffordable real-estate development. It is a twisted use of social justice language to dress up gentrification as “racial integration.”
These $50 million would have never come if not for the tireless fight waged by organizations of community and resident activists, including GBIO and UFAD. But if tenants don’t have a voice in how this money is spent, it will disappear into the pockets of corrupt housing officials and contractors. So now we must continue the struggle to ensure the money is actually used to make needed repairs and to build up toward larger victories, such as the cancellation of privatization plans and the return of tenant management.
The fight for public housing is not over.