Overcrowded apartments have long been part of the Boston landscape: students, young adults and others, packed into houses that weren't designed for dorm-style living. Those conditions can be dangerous, even deadly. In April, a fire raged through a crowded house in Allston, killing a Boston University student and injuring 15 others. The tragedy shed light on a system of absentee landlords and weak housing inspections, and highlighted the challenges of living in a city where rents continue to soar.
This week, we asked Boston's mayoral candidates what they would do to ease overcrowding in neighborhoods like Allston. Here are their answers. Add your thoughts to the comments or tweet at the hashtag #BosMayor.
Marty Walsh, @Marty_Walsh
There should be a city ordinance about standards and clear regulations for the City of Boston’s landlords; this includes regulations for absentee-landlords. Regulations should include over-crowding, public safety, sanitary, recycling, maintenance, and other quality of life standards. There should also be a way for tenants to file complaints and have ISD periodically review and respond to them. Boston currently has the Citizens Connect app for residents to inform the city about problems such as potholes or broken streetlights. Perhaps a Tenant App would work to address housing problems. There needs to be a balance of fairness and due process for both tenants and the landlords. As mayor, I will make sure that both are equally represented and heard.
Dan Conley, @DanFConley
Suffolk District Attorney
We should be proud that Boston is continuing to attract residents, but if that growth isn't properly handled, everyone's quality of life is impacted. That's why, as mayor, I'll place a renewed emphasis on housing and safety code inspections in order to crack down on landlords with unsafe concentrations of tenants. I'll also work to implement Mayor Menino's 2020 plan, which would add 30,000 new units of housing and open up 1 million square feet of city-owned property for middle-class housing development. And especially in neighborhoods like Allston and Brighton, City Hall needs to work hand-in-hand with universities to more efficiently plan student growth and housing solutions -- a step I promise to take as mayor. That said, it's important to remember that limited density helps keep rent levels in check. I don't want to solve overcrowding by pricing all but the wealthiest Bostonians out of our city.
John Connolly, @JohnRConnolly
Boston City Councilor
Overcrowding and safety in rental housing are significant concerns across the city. As Mayor, I will hold absentee landlords accountable and ensure that current laws are enforced. I will also work for the development of more housing options such as micro–apartments, which can be more affordable and environmentally friendly, three-bedroom housing for families, and mixed-use/mixed-income developments that combine residential and retail uses linked to public transportation. This type of smart growth will help to ensure safe, vibrant, diverse, and accessible communities.
Bill Walczak, @BillWalczak
We need to construct more affordable housing throughout every neighborhood in Boston. Something must be done to decongest Allston while also retaining the many residents who want to live in the city but are forced into subpar or unaffordable living conditions. In order to keep people in Boston, we must do a better job of providing housing as well as means of public transportation whether by bus, train, or commuter rail. This is why I am a strong proponent of transit-oriented development, which also promotes the use of affordable public transit and reduces traffic on our roads.
Rob Consalvo, @RobConsalvo
Boston City Councilor
What the people of Boston want most is safe, healthy and affordable housing. As City Councilor, the Chair of the City Council’s Housing Committee, and a Trustee of the Neighborhood Housing Trust, I have led the fight to build more market rate and affordable housing to help ease overcrowding. I have led efforts to pass legislation to enforce code and health laws and crack down on absentee landlords. We can solve overcrowding by providing more market rate and affordable housing and expanding public transportation into Boston. With better public transportation we can connect ALL our neighborhoods to downtown and the universities – opening up new housing options citywide. As mayor, I'll work with schools to develop more on-campus housing and I'll work to develop an innovative neighborhood transportation plan to ensure all residents live within a five-minute walk to public transportation or alternative transportation to make Boston better for our future.
Charlotte Golar Richie, @Charlotte4Mayor
Former State Representative
To ease overcrowding in neighborhoods like Allston, I will prioritize community input regarding the Zoning Board, BRA, DND, ISD and other city agencies. I will also recruit the large institutions in the neighborhood, requiring them (Harvard, St. Elizabeth's, BU) to get involved in crafting solutions to overcrowding, such as building more on-campus housing. These institutions can work with the city and private developers to create a workable plan.
I support the recently passed city ordinance that addresses the overcrowding of students in private apartments and will work to increase the supply of rental housing for neighborhood residents. As the former Chief of Housing and Director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, I wrestled complicated housing issues and worked cooperatively and effectively with neighborhoods to expand the supply of affordable and workforce housing, so that families and seniors could remain in their neighborhoods.
John Barros, @JohnFBarros
Former school board member
As a city we must ensure that all individuals are living in a safe environment. This includes first time renters such as college students. We have some ordinances designed to address overcrowding specifically that is not working. One idea for addressing the issue is to have the city partner with colleges and universities as a part of the lease process for all their students. If our high ed institutions are part of the lease we can ask that the city is invited to inspect every unit that houses a student annually. The ability for regular inspections would increase responsible living and safety.
Mike Ross, @MikeforBoston
Boston City Councilor
There are neighborhoods that are craving development and housing opportunities. Building there relieves pressures not just in Allston, but across the city. That has to include affordable housing, too. If we're serious about affordable housing, it can't be the first thing we deal away when a new building is going up.
We also need to work with our colleges and universities to build more dorms, so students can stay on campus and aren't putting more pressure on the strained housing market.
Felix Arroyo, @FelixArroyo
Boston City Councilor
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