Boston – The board of directors for Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston has selected architect and urban planner James Kostaras as its new president and CEO.
The longtime West Roxbury resident brings a wealth of global and local experience to the role. Kostaras comes to Habitat from his most recent position as senior fellow at the Institute for International Urban Development (I2UD), where he helped communities and local governments around the globe address the challenges of urban poverty, housing, and climate change for more than a decade.
His local experience includes serving as executive director of the City of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development; assistant director for the Boston Redevelopment Authority; and as lecturer and design critic in urban planning and design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.
“Despite our booming economy, building decent housing for working families in Greater Boston remains one of the greatest challenges facing our region,” said Kostaras. “The mission of Habitat is to help low-income working families achieve the dream of homeownership, but the high demand for buildable sites close to public transit makes our mission more challenging than ever.”
Kostaras began transitioning into his duties in December of 2019 with the assistance of outgoing president and CEO Lark Palermo. Palermo retired after serving 14 years in the role, during which time new homes were built for 49 families. Kostaras says his goal is to help more families break the cycle of poverty by expanding homeownership opportunities in Greater Boston, and by working with local communities to support neighborhood revitalization. Finding land to build on in Boston’s expensive real estate market will require new strategies. Kostaras is seeking to partner with private residential developers to help them meet affordable housing obligations mandated by municipal governments by building Habitat homes either within their development site or at a site approved by the municipality.
The 2019 Greater Boston Housing Report Card notes a greater strain on current housing stock as the region’s population continues to grow. Housing affordability lags sharply, due to income inequality in the region well as low vacancy rates and a lack of new affordable housing construction in Greater Boston as a whole. In addition, housing prices at all levels have risen sharply throughout the metro Boston area while wages have stagnated for working families.
Research shows homeownership boosts the educational performance of children, encourages higher participation in civic activity, and improves health outcomes for family members. Habitat’s partner families are selected based on need, secure employment, and the ability to make affordable mortgage payments. Each family must attend 10 homeownership classes and complete 300 hours of ‘sweat equity’ – working with other volunteers on the construction site or at Habitat’s ReStore in West Roxbury.
Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston is a locally run and operated affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. The largest of the New England chapters, Habitat Greater Boston encompasses all of Boston as well as over two dozen cities and towns west and north of Boston. Most recently, Habitat Greater Boston completed renovations of a two-family home in Dorchester, with support from the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development; broke ground on two single-family homes in Malden in collaboration with the Malden’s Mayor Christenson and the City’s Redevelopment Authority; and is nearing completion on the last of five condominiums at Balina Place in Dorchester.
“Habitat for Humanity is an important partner as the City of Boston endeavors to increase affordable homeownership opportunities for its residents,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing for the City of Boston. “Jim brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this important position. I congratulate Habitat for Humanity for selecting such a talented individual and look forward to working with Jim on the existing and future pipeline of developments.”