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Spurred into action by homeless children

Boston to unveil new housing plan

By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / March 3, 2009

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Stunned by a sharp rise in homeless children over the last two years, Boston officials today will announce a $200 million plan they hope will cut the city's number of homeless families in half by 2012.

The plan calls for doubling the current production of affordable housing for homeless families over the next three years. To meet the high costs, it would rely on an unspecified amount of federal funding, according to a draft summary of the city's new three-year housing strategy.

A census of the city's homeless population conducted earlier this winter revealed that the number of homeless children had risen from 1,540 in 2006 to 2,288, a surprise to Mayor Thomas M. Menino and city housing officials who believed they were making progress in getting the homeless into permanent housing.

The plan to be announced today would add 6,000 new housing units for working families, including 1,000 affordable rentals; save 1,000 homes from foreclosure; and help purchase 500 foreclosed and abandoned homes.

Some of the city's goals will be aided by funding from the recent federal stimulus package, called the American Recovery and Investment Act, according to a Boston housing official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the mayor had not yet announced the plan. But officials could not say yesterday how much federal stimulus money could be spent on the housing initiative.

In particular, the city will be able to move quickly on construction of so-called "shovel ready" developments of rental properties that have been in the pipeline for some time, city officials said. However, much of the city's planned affordable housing is still in early stages of development and no new municipal or federal money has been identified, meaning the goal of adding 1,000 new affordable rental units will be difficult to achieve, according to the draft report.

The housing plan also lays out several initiatives to further stem the tide of foreclosures that has dragged down housing values and left tenants homeless in areas of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and East Boston.

The plan includes an effort to continue buying some foreclosed homes outright and in other cases providing down-payment assistance to families and landlords to get abandoned, foreclosed properties occupied again.

In addition to getting foreclosed homes out of the hands of banks, the city plans to provide financial training and property-buying tips to 15,000 Boston residents.

The goal of cutting the number of homeless families in half follows December's census, which showed that while the city had been successful in its goal of reducing its population of homeless elders, more families were living on city streets and in shelters.

Three years ago, Menino ordered his housing officials to do whatever it took to get about 140 senior citizens living on city streets into housing. By working with nonprofit groups and the Boston Housing Authority, the city had reduced the number to 21 at last count, officials said yesterday.

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.