Boston plan for shifting police funds a template to help affordable housing

It was a rough 2020 for the police in the city of Boston.

Like every other police force in America, not only were they caught up  in the social awakening in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers, but the Boston PD had to deal with its own overtime pay scandal This only further separated the gap in trust between the force and the citizens of the city.

Amid the fervor, then-Mayor Martin Walsh and the City Council decided that the police overtime budget would be slashed by $12 million, and that the money would be used to help address racial disparities in Boston.

Recently, the city has put action behind those words, and it is helping marginalized people be able to buy a home.

In February, the Mayor’s office announced that it was earmarking $250,000 of those cut overtime funds, plus an additional $75,000 to create a matching-grant program that would help lower- and middle-income individuals or families to buy a home in Boston.

The grant program establishes $5,000 for each qualifying “first-generation” home buyer who was able to contribute $2,500 of their own money toward a down payment.

The grant program is part of a partnership with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA), a non-profit organization that concentrates on helping families in need to prepare to buy a home in Boston.

At the time of the announcement, Walsh, who was confirmed as Secretary of Labor for President Biden’s administration in March, released a statement that, in part, said, “Now, more than ever in Boston, we must take steps to create equitable opportunities and access to resources for all Bostonians. Improving pathways to homeownership can help address disparities in wealth.”

Boston is no different than most large cities in America, where the wealth gap between whites and blacks is stark. The city is hoping that their new program can become a model for other cities nationwide to help close that gap and improve communities one new homeowner at a time.

Homeowners are more likely to have accumulated wealth than renters, thanks to home equity – which can help financially in many ways, whether its’s to start a small business, help pay for college education or simply to pass on to the next generation so they can buy their own home as well.

MAHA initially launched its program two years ago using multiple grants provided by Wells Fargo, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Boston Real Estate Board to help these homebuyers – and they classify them as first-generation, not first-time, in order to include people whose parents didn’t own a home or who lost one in foreclosure.

According to the Boston Globe, MAHA had enrolled 168 people into classes they offer on homebuying preparations and of that group, 14 went on to actually buy a home. The hope is those numbers will grow with the assistance of the city’s partnership.

Improving homeownership, especially in Latino and Black communities, had been a top priority for Walsh and his administration. In his tenure, the city has approved the development of thousands of new apartments in an effort to increase supply and stabilize housing costs.

Kim Janey has taken over as acting mayor for now, but an election for the office will be coming in November, when housing advocates hope that homeownership and affordable housing are tops on the list of priorities for all candidates running for Mayor.