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Housing task force tackles affordable housing crisis

To address the housing issues facing Boston’s neighborhoods, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced the creation of a 23-member housing task force, assigned with the mission of devising a four-year housing plan to be launched by June.

Walsh announced the formation of the group at a groundbreaking ceremony for a housing development for the elderly Saturday in Mission Hill. The four-year plan will create manageable goals for the Boston housing market by focusing on development costs, senior, low-income and middle-class housing options.

The task force charged with creating the plan is comprised of individuals with experience in non-profit and for-profit development, academic institutions, consultation, housing organizations and government.

“We have to bring key community members and experts to the table to find diverse and creative solutions to these challenges,” Walsh said in a release Saturday.

Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, said the DND will be working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority to provide the task force with the research needed to evaluate housing in Boston.

“We have labor unions, so we really look for a cross section of people that bring different perspectives to the issue,” she said. “If we are going to solve a difficult and complicated problem, we need a lot of expertise. We need to use our resources more effectively.”

Once the plan is completed, city agencies will begin implementing the programs and track their results on a quarterly basis, Dillon said.

Joe Kriesberg, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, will be joining the task force as a specialist in housing member organizations. He said the team of leaders will address issues the city of Boston did not previously have the time or resources to address.

“The advantage of having people outside city government to help formulate a plan is because housing is also done by the private sector,” he said. “City officials working inside city offices cooking up a plan might not work as well as one developed with the input of private folks.”

Joining the group as an expert in non-profit development, John Drew, president and CEO of the Action for Boston Community Development, said he agreed to serve on the task force because he saw it as an opportunity to address problems he is concerned with, including family homelessness and housing for the elderly.

“The affordability gap is widening between those who can afford and those who cannot and we have more and more people in the city not being able to afford housing and very little subsidized housing,” he said. “We can tell as the city booms, as rents are sky high and housing prices are driven up, it has been displacing people who work hard but don’t have a lot of money.”

Creating an effective housing plan for the city will require the task force to work cooperatively across groups of people to leverage resources and create housing that is affordable to a wide range of incomes, said Eric Belsky, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

“The mayor wants Boston to be a leader in this area,” he said. “The charge to the task force is to come up with some audacious plans. It’s a challenge.”

Several residents said they are hopeful the task force will address housing affordability, but other said the new team might be a futile effort.

Dan Molloy, 23, of Allston, said the task force could play a large role in creating safer and less expensive neighborhoods for recent college graduates to find housing.

“Housing prices is a big issue especially for college kids and recent college grads like myself,” he said. “Hopefully it will make housing more available to more people and places that may not be super safe and help find places that can be updated and renovated.”

Joe Nagan, 38, of Kenmore, said he is skeptical the task force will solve the housing issues that face the city’s homeless.

“Homelessness in Boston is a much wider problem than a task force can solve,” he said. “What is he going to do, give houses to the homeless? Maybe a job task force would be much better. Take the homeless and give them a promise of shelter in return for work. Give them pride, give them something to do.”

However Robin Kikuchi, 39, of Fenway, disagrees. He said even a little help for Boston’s homeless population would make the task force worthwhile.

“I work with some of the homeless, so I know a little more detail about what their plight is,” she said. “Any help that they can get, I support.”

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