An Apartment by the Train: Where Boston Funders Want Affordable Housing

In many cities across America, it seems that low-income neighborhoods are strategically placed in inaccessible locations. When a neighborhood isn’t close to a bus stop or a train station, residents without cars often find it difficult to access job opportunities, markets with healthy foods, and events to entertain the kids. Which explains why a collaboration backed by heavy-hitting Boston funders is working to promote affordable housing in transit-oriented neighborhoods. 

The Accelerator Fund is a $5 million fund that’s focused on the city of Boston, as well as the entire state of Massachusetts. One of the major players in this collaboration is the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which has been connecting local organizations and community leaders for over 30 years. LISC was established in 1981 and has created 9,637 homes and apartments and leveraged $1.6 billion in the city since that time.

Both the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation are backers of the Accelerator Fund. Another local funder, the Hyams Foundation, is involved and always places a major emphasis on affordable housing grantmaking. This foundation regularly makes program-related investments in the form of loans with specified repayment dates or equity investment. Hyams has more than $4.2 million in outstanding program-related investments, mostly for affordable housing construction projects.

Related - Read IP’s Profile of the Hyams Foundation

The Accelerator Fund is leveraging $30 million of early-stage financing to spur the development of affordable and mixed-income housing along light rail corridors and transit rich areas. Both the Boston Foundation and the Hyams Foundation committed $1.5 million in low interest loans, Barr funded start-up costs, and both the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic and Housing Development and LISC Boston kicked in another million each. 

It's notable that this push focuses on affordable housing in transit-friendly spots, since good transit often makes housing less affordable. Professionals are far more likely to gentrify neighborhos with great train access to downtown, and that's been particularly true in Boston, where an expansion of the T in recent decades has fueled gentrification in neighborhoods like Jamaica Plain. 

Further expansion of the T is coming, and we wrote recently about funder-backed effort in Somerville to ensure that low-income residents don't get pushed out of that neighborhood as train service comes in via the Green Line.

The Boston Foundation is also involved in that effort, suggesting that this is a funder keenly attuned to the nexus between transit and housing. 

One last thing: A recent Brookings study found that the vast majority of poor Americans now live in the suburbs, and there's a powerful article in this month's Atlantic that shows how a lack of transit is perhaps the biggest challenge faced by these people. 

When it comes to transit and opportunity, philanthropy has barely scratched the surface of the problems facing low-income people.