Affordable rent is often an oxymoron in Boston. And there are many reasons why; after all, we’ve got more jobs than housing, horrid commutes that encourage living close to work, a large share of highly compensated tenants, and a population boom that’s heading toward the area’s rent peak of the 1950s—all putting housing at a premium. The prices have even netted Boston a new name: Crazytown. Despite all of this, paying a reasonable amount for rent may be more possible than you think.
The Boston Planning & Development Agency’s Inclusionary Development Policy requires most developers to contribute to affordable housing. If they don’t, then they must do one or some combination of the following: put affordable units in their buildings, build them off-site, or pay into the city’s affordable housing funds. In February, Mayor Walsh announced more than $26 million in funding to create and preserve 515 units across seven neighborhoods: Brighton, East Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan, Mission Hill, North End, and Roxbury.
According to the Globe, a record 546 inclusionary units opened in 2018, which is about one-fourth of the total production of new units built since the policy was launched in 2000. And 834 more are on their way. One of them might be for you.
If you’re looking to rent an affordable housing unit, you should know the three types of programs available: subsidized rents, vouchers, and income-restricted rents. What’s the difference?
Subsidized rents are tied to your income, which means your rent will be a set percentage of how much money you make. This is ideal for people with no or low income.
Vouchers give people with low incomes a set amount of money to put toward the rent of a private apartment. If the rent is higher than the amount of the voucher, the renter must pay the difference.
Income-restricted rents are more complicated, as they’re reserved for tenants who fit certain criteria. Your eligibility depends on two things: your household size and your income. Those two factors determine where you fall within the area median income (AMI). The AMI has 21 brackets that range from 30 percent to 200 percent. The higher your AMI, the more rent you will pay. Here are some examples:
If you live alone (household of one) and make $53,000 a year, then you fall within 70 percent AMI. If you make $79,000, then you’re at 100 percent AMI—and congratulations, you also happen to make the median income in Boston.
If you live with a significant other, then the AMI shifts. In the same examples above, the AMI would fall to 60 percent if your combined household income was $53,000.
By the way, assets matter in your income calculation. For example, if you happen to have either real estate or cash worth up to $75,000, then your income needs to fall under 80 percent AMI to qualify for an affordable housing unit. If your income is more than 80 percent AMI, then your asset limit increases to $100,000. And if everyone in your household is over 65, then your assets can be valued up to $250,000. If you have or make more than that, then you’re not eligible. Sorry. But also congratulations, because you have assets.
Most developments offer affordable units to renters who fall between 70 percent and 100 percent AMI. And remember those micro-unit apartments, the ones under 400 square feet? If you can live comfortably in them, then look at the new two-year Compact Living Pilot, because those also have lower rents.