By Katie McCann, Boston University School of Social Work, BACH MSW Intern

Housing affordability and stability in Boston and the surrounding areas is a growing crisis, as the 2017 America’s Rental Housing report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that nearly half of renters in greater Boston in 2016 paid more than thirty percent of their income toward housing and utilities, making them housing-burdened.  A Rapid Health Impact Assessment on Eviction, Health, and Stabilization in Boston conducted by City Life/Vida Urbana, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Right to Remain Coalition found that both the incidence of eviction and anticipation of eviction among populations vulnerable to housing instability contributed to reduced health outcomes, and ordinances, such as the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, which reduces the incidence of eviction would improve the health of renters in Boston.  In January, Mayor Walsh established two new resources within Boston’s Office of Housing Stability to provide information and mediation to tenants and landlords early in the process in order to prevent evictions and displacement.

With two of BACH’s strategic goals being to work to influence policies at private and public institutions to promote racial and ethnic health equity, and to improve population health by improving the integration of the healthcare delivery system with community-based prevention activities, addressing housing instability and displacement is central to our vision of working toward an equitable and healthy Boston.  BACH is collaborating with Boston Medical Center (BMC), the Center for Community Health Education Research and Service (CCHERS), and Health Resources in Action (HRiA) on a new project called the Innovative Housing Stability Initiative (ISHI), which aims to understand the successful approaches to address housing stability that exist in Boston and nationally; the opportunities for improvement in housing instability in Boston; and the ways resources can best be used to address these opportunities.

Dr. Thea James of Boston Medical Center describes BMC’s perspective on the collaboration: “BACH and CCHERS are natural partners for BMC in the execution of our Determination of Need housing investment. Your organizations’ expertise and commitment to community engagement will help us to identify and support inclusive solutions for housing stabilization. Dr. Sandel and I are very excited about this opportunity to collaborate.”

To inform our understanding of approaches to addressing housing instability, we are conducting interviews with key researchers, program leaders, service providers, and healthcare institutions and focus groups with community members to understand people’s perspectives on effective approaches to prevent and address housing instability in Boston with the goal of determining organizational perceptions of structures, policies and systems that affect housing instability in Boston; identifying gaps challenges, opportunities and resources to address housing instability; and exploring successful and innovative approaches that exist to address housing instability.  This research will inform the development of an Innovative Stable Housing Task Force, which will provide guidance for a grant-making process to Boston community organizations in Roxbury and Dorchester implementing innovative programs to promote housing stability and prevent displacement in Boston.

One of the major challenges to working toward housing stability is that there is no shared definition of housing stability, and often is not even defined by organizations or researchers attempting to address it.  Through this initiative, we are working with residents and residents themselves, to understand what is needed to ensure that greater Boston families and individuals have stable housing, to understand what that means to them, and what it will take to get there.


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