By Kathryn Breen
The Boston 2024 Olympic bid is looking at how it can impact housing in a city where officials and planners worry about the rising cost of living. As the city continues to grow, the Boston2024 committee believes that its contributions through the bid can fill a need and help to increase affordable and low-income housing for residents.
In October 2014, Mayor Marty J. Walsh’s report, “Housing a Changing City: Boston2030,” outlined a housing plan for Boston in the coming years. The report noted Boston is growing at a rapid rate, creating a need for more affordable housing. It was found that by the year 2030, Boston’s population could surpass 700,000 residents, a number the City has not seen since the 1950s.
“In order to ensure that those most in need are able to find housing, the City proposes to increase the rate of production of affordable housing in the City by 50 percent, creating a total of 6,500 new units of low-income housing for the workforce by the year 2030,” the report said.
Boston2024 has gone so far as to claim that thousands of affordable housing units would be constructed as a result of the bid.
Currently, Boston ranks fairly high in terms of its commitment to affordable housing, said Chris Norris, the executive director of the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership. Norris said that, “at the same time, the cost of living in Boston is always among the highest in the country,” describing it as an ongoing challenge to secure low-income housing for those who need it.
In its bid documents, Boston2024 laid out plans to create moveable housing structures. During the event, the housing units would be located at University of Massachusetts-Boston and would serve as the Athletes Village.
UMass Boston is currently a commuter campus with no dorms, and has been looking to expand its campus whether the City hosts the Olympics or not.
“Following the games, these units will be moved to neighborhoods around the city in need of affordable, workforce housing,” the Olympics 2024 bid stated. While this sounds good on paper, Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said that this is far from realistic and that there have been many failed attempts by host cities to do this in the past.
“The reason it doesn’t work out,” Zimbalist said, “is because in order to convert these apartments into low-income apartments… you need public subsidies.” These public subsidies would go towards adding kitchens, additional renovations to the houses, and buying land to put the new apartments.
“What happens invariably is that the private developer who goes into the project saying they like the idea of affordable housing, looks at the economics of that proposition and says ‘I can’t do it unless you give me a public subsidy,'” Zimbalist said. The distribution of public subsidies would mean the use of taxpayers’ dollars, which Boston2024 is trying hard to avoid.
In the most recent Summer Olympics hosted in the United States in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) created new dormitories that served as the Athletes Village for the games. The school had made a long-term plan that happened to coincide with the plans of the Atlanta 1996 planning committee.
Michael Edwards, the director of campus recreation at Georgia Tech, said that the school was used to house all of the athletes and that those newly-built apartments on campus were then converted to dormitories for students. “Ones that we already had on campus also got some sprucing up and renovation for the Olympic Games,” Edwards added.
Georgia Tech bonded $100 million towards the Athletes Village and about $35 million came from the IOC. In the long-term, Edwards has noticed a significant difference as a result of the university’s role in the games.
“It broadened our global identity immensely,” Edwards said. “You just can’t buy that type of exposure to the world on such a global scale.” In a 1996 speech by Georgia Tech president Wayne Clough, Clough said that prior to the Olympics, Georgia Tech was only able to provide on-campus housing to 35 percent of its students. Following the games, the campus was able to provide housing to 65 percent of students with 2,700 new beds and seven new residence halls created in the process.
Jeanne Dubois, the senior advisor for community engagement strategies with the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, said that affordable housing is a primary concern for her for the bid, especially since her community represents a large percentage of the population that would benefit from new affordable housing.
“The growth must be for low- and middle-income working families, students, and businesses,” Dubois said. “If these white-collared folks think they can get away with it without any community engagement they are in for some bad news.”
Dubois urged Boston2024 to get involved community groups and advisory boards that know what is best in terms of housing for their communities. By doing this, the committee could ensure that the work that they plan to do is worthwhile and beneficial to the community.
Housing activists continue to attend Boston2024 community meetings to ensure that this issue is not being pushed to the side. In a late April community meeting in Roxbury, many local residents pointed out housing as their biggest concern with the bid.
An activist named Joao DePina, to much applause, said “What is happening is gentrification, and 2024 is just another way to finish it off.”
At the meeting, Boston2024 also unveiled a new ‘localization strategy,’ wrote Adam Vaccaro in the Boston Globe. A subcommittee of Boston2024 will specialize in addresses issues such as affordable housing, local business relationships, and employment for members of the community. Despite its efforts, however, residents are still concerned that Boston2024 does not have the community’s best interests at heart and have seen disastrous Olympics-related housing issues occur in the past.
In Rio de Janeiro, there has been mass displacement leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the marginalized members of the community have been forced out of their homes to make way for new venues and infrastructure. In spite of the City’s large affordable-housing concerns, government officials have opted to turn the Olympic Village into luxury housing following the conclusion of the games, wrote Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post. In a Boston Globe report, it was found that 220,000 Brazilians currently have no place to live.
When asked if there is any concern that something like that may happen in Boston, Norris said, “While it is a concern, I don’t expect that that would happen in Boston. I don’t think Mayor Walsh would let that happen.”