With rents rising and unspent funds set aside to help with housing, we knew we had to act,” says Daria Gere, Executive Director at Waltham Alliance to Create Housing (WATCH). The city of Waltham passed its Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 2005. In the past 10 years, between the local property tax surcharge and state distributions, Waltham’s CPA generated $30 million, at least 10% of which is for affordable housing. WATCH and its Tenant Action Group (TAG) decided it was time to organize to create the political will and pressure to spend CPA funds to help low-income tenants living in Waltham.
TAG and WATCH wrote a proposal for a CPA-funded Tenant-Based Rental Voucher Program. With almost 6,000 households income-eligible for the voucher and 5% of the City’s residents living in overcrowded or substandard housing, the need in Waltham is pressing. Fueled by their own experiences, tenant leaders organized phone banks and a letter writing campaign. WATCH sent hundreds of letters to the Waltham City Council from residents, allies, and 15 organizations. On 3 different occasions, WATCH brought over 20 tenants and allies to testify to City Council.
One resident to testify was Getty, a mother of a 9-year-old child with special needs who wanted to help the City Council understand the difficult choices she faces. “I work 20 hours a day to support my son and myself. Right now, I am about to be homeless because I couldn’t find [a new] place to live,” she said, noting that she was unable to pay her rent after her roommate moved out. Because her son has special needs, she can’t move to another town and put him in a new school environment. Other residents, like Getty, also shared their stories. And the City Council listened.
On January 26th, 2016, the City Council passed the CPA Voucher program. Upon approval of the contract between the City and the Waltham Housing Authority, Waltham will provide a 3-year rental voucher to 50 of the City’s lowest income households. The voucher will ensure that tenants’ rents are only 30% of their income. While more permanent low-income housing options are needed, this was a huge step forward that only happened because of the community organizing efforts of WATCH, and the residents of Waltham.