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  • Writer's pictureJohn Spritzler


On Friday, February 21, I spoke with our new Allston-Brighton City Councilor, Liz Breadon, when she appeared at the Veronica Smith Senior Center in Brighton at 10 AM to answer questions from her constituents (more than 500 of whom posed for the photos online here). Until at least 10:15, when I departed, I was the only person who showed up to ask a question, which makes me wonder how seriously Ms. Breadon publicized the event; I only heard about it word of mouth, not from any of the neighborhood email lists.

I showed Ms. Breadon a poster (online here) showing that the City labels a one bedroom apartment renting for $3,645/month as "affordable"!). I said this is how Mayor Walsh uses a deceitful definition of "affordable" to enable him to declare that there's lots of affordable housing being built when in fact that is not true. (It's mainly luxury housing being built.)

I asked Ms. Breadon if she was going to give a press conference and also use additional means at her disposal to inform the public that the City of Boston was using this deceitful definition of "affordable." Ms. Breadon did not say that she would do that. She merely said that she spoke about the need for affordable housing all the time. (Well, so does Mayor Walsh.)

Since nobody else was there to ask a question, I used my time to say to Ms. Breadon essentially what I say in this article (below) that I submitted subsequently to The Daily Dig and also sent to Ms. Breadon and City Councilor Michelle Wu asking them what they thought about the points it makes. Here is the article:


'Affordable' Housing Is NOT Affordable in Boston
The great article, "What does 'affordable' mean in Boston?" (online at describes how the City of Boston uses the word "affordable" for rental units. The article points out that the City uses the word in a very slippery and deceitful manner.
One might expect, for example, that the City's definition of "affordable" would mean that the rent is no more than X dollars per month, with the X specified as some actual number. But no, the City has no such definition.
Instead the City uses the word "affordable" in the context of saying how high the rent can be for an apartment to be affordable to somebody; what's "affordable" to a wealthier person is thus not "affordable" to a poorer person in this manner of using the word.
The article gives one example of what the City calls an "affordable" rental unit. In this example, the apartment is a one bedroom with 964 square feet that rents for $3,492/month or $41,904/year. Why is it "affordable"? The City calls it "affordable" because it is affordable TO A PERSON MAKING $125,000 per year. It is "affordable" to such a person because the rent is "only" 34% of such a person's income ($41,904 rent per year is 34% of $125,000 income per year.) Where did the 34% figure come from? The federal government says an apartment is affordable to somebody if that person can pay the rent with no more than 30% of their income; but the City of Boston says it is affordable to somebody even if it takes up to 35% of that person's income to pay the rent.
Because the City uses 35% (not 34%) in its definition, the rent could even be as high as $43,750/year or $3,646/month and STILL be considered "affordable" by the City (because 43,750 is 35% of 125,000).
The City uses the expression "affordable to middle income" people. One would think (hope) that this would mean affordable (rent no more than 35% of the person's income) to people earning around the median income of Boston, which is about $72,000. But no! The City considers somebody earning $125,000 /year to be in the "middle income" bracket. This means that when the City says that so-and-so many units are "affordable to middle income" people, it is counting units that rent, as in the example above, for $3,492/month or $41,904/year, as "affordable." But many of these units are not affordable to many middle income people who earn far less than $125,000/year.
Likewise, the City considers somebody whose income is $55,000/year to be in the "low income" bracket. This means that an apartment that rents for $1,604/month is considered to be "affordable" for "low income" people. But a janitor's income in Boston is on average only $29,000 and ranges from about $21,000 to $42,000. A janitor earning the average of $29,000/year and devoting 35% of his/her income to rent could only afford an apartment renting for $846/month. This means that when the City says that such-and-such many apartments are affordable to "low income" people, it is not true; many of the supposedly affordable apartments are not affordable to many low income people who, like Boston public school janitors, earn far less than $55,000/year.
And for people with no children the City uses the figure of 50% instead of 35% in its absurd definition of "affordable." This makes obscenely high rents supposedly "affordable." For example, if a person with no children and an income of $125,000/year is renting an apartment for $5,208/month, then according to the City of Boston he/she is living in an "affordable" apartment (because $5,208/month rent is $62,496/year rent and this is less than 50% of $125,000)!
So how come our political representatives in the City Council, and our neighborhood organizations (such as the Brighton Allston Community Coalition, one of whose founders is the new City Council representative for that neighborhood) that say they want "20% affordable housing" in new housing developments don't expose the fact that the City's definition of "affordable" renders this demand pointless? Good question?
How come these politicians and organizations are not demanding that 100% (not merely 20%) of new housing be affordable (truly affordable to working class people!)? This is obviously what is required to end the atrocity of gentrification--the use of obscenely high rents to drive working class people out of a neighborhood in which, often, their families have lived for generations. Another good question.


So, will Ms. Breadon give a press conference and also use additional means to inform the public that The City (i.e., Mayor Walsh) is using a deceitful definition of affordable housing in order to proclaim that there's lots of affordable housing being built when that is not true? What about Ms. Wu also? Or will these politicians help the Mayor try to deceive the public by remaining silent about his deception, while mimicking the Mayor's pretty words about how hard they are working to get affordable housing? What, if any reply, will I receive from these politicians regarding the article I sent them? We shall see.

In the meantime, go here to see what regular people in Allston-Brighton are doing to get affordable housing for ALL.

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