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Tania Fernandes Anderson proposes rent-to-own program

Anna Lamb
Tania Fernandes Anderson proposes rent-to-own program
Tania Fernandes Anderson delivers her first speech from the floor of the City Council chamber.

Joining the mayor in her mission to create affordable housing opportunities in Boston, newly elected District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson called on her colleagues during last week’s council meeting to hold a hearing exploring the possibility for a rent-to-own pilot.

“I chose to file an order for a hearing to explore a rent-to-own pilot program as one way of creating solutions to break the chains that bind us in cycles of oppression and poverty,” Fernandes Anderson said, “as one way for our city to redeem ourselves.”

In rent-to-own arrangements, prospective buyers typically commit to renting a property for a specific period of time with an option to buy the property at the end of the lease term.

The hearing order, which posits that families in Roxbury — the councilor’s district — substantially less than the area median income, illustrates the potential to create safer neighborhoods and healthier families with opportunities for homeownership.

“Areas with higher rates of stable homeownership benefit from consistent neighborhood upkeep and maintenance, greater social capital, and better psychological health, and additionally, resident stability is associated with safer outcomes, with lower rates of crimes reported in stable homeowner communities and areas with lower rates of vacant lots,” the order states.

The order notes the benefits of homeownership on economic mobility for Black and brown families historically excluded from such opportunities.

“Property ownership represents the largest asset and source of wealth for Americans; and the ability to tap into the wealth gained from the value of property allows a cushion from emergency costs and greater ability to invest in diverse ways,” it says.

During the meeting, Fernandes Anderson shared her own experience with housing instability, having come to the United States in the late 1980s from Cape Verde.

“1989. Academy Homes, where gun violence was at its peak, but this was my home,” she said. “Where friends got killed and where police beat us. Where mothers died from crack. Where the government left us to die. This is what we called home.”

In an interview with the Banner, Fernandes Anderson recounted how the struggles did not stop there. After being evicted from Academy Homes, she and her mother lived with two other families in a single-family home in Dorchester. Pregnant at the time, she shared a bed with her grandmother.

Next, she said, “I need help and place myself in the shelter.”

Working three jobs, trying to support herself and her growing family, Fernandes Anderson recalled the migraines and muscle aches from being under immense stress with no home to return to at the end of the long days.

Finally though, after months, she found a place.

“The very next day when I woke up, my shoulders, my body, my neck, my migraines, everything subsided, and I felt like a different person,” she said.

She added, “Decades later, for people to still be in these in these situations, still facing these obstacles — It’s astounding to me that we haven’t found better solutions.”

In her maiden speech Wednesday, the new councilor also highlighted how she hopes to impact policy in her upcoming term. She is chair of the Ways and Means Committee and vice-chair of the Veteran, Military Families and Military Affairs Committee.

She said she hopes to make moves towards improving education, celebrating culture and creating opportunities for Black and brown residents to have economic mobility.

“Boston is a beautiful place, full of diversity, culture, with world-class education, and first-class jobs. But we also know those opportunities aren’t fairly distributed or made available to everyone,” she said.

While the new councilor didn’t mention any specifics, she told the Banner, “I have a few ideas. And some of them I think would be considered radical. But in a state like this, we need radical, we need innovation, we need creative — everything else is so performative.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, her rent-to-own hearing order was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development for further discussion.