City changes affordable-housing policy

January 15, 2016
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Mayor Martin Walsh signed an executive order last month that changes the City’s affordable-housing policy, forcing some developers to pay more money or build more affordable units if they don’t meet the affordable-housing requirement on-site. The policy change went into effect Jan. 1.

But to the disappointment of some housing organizations, the executive order does not change the on-site affordable-housing requirement.

The City’s affordable-housing policy, officially known as the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP), requires developments with ten or more units that need zoning relief or are on City-owned land to have 15 percent of market-rate units, or 13 percent of the total units, be affordable. Developers also have the option to build the affordable units off-site or pay into the City’s affordable-housing fund.

The new affordable-housing policy splits the city into three zones. Zone A includes developments in the downtown neighborhoods and waterfront area. Zone B includes developments in Jamaica Plain, Allston, Brighton, Charlestown, Mission Hill and part of South Boston. Zone C includes developments in Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, Roxbury, and West Roxbury.

For developers building in Zones A and B, the new affordable-housing policy will force them to build more affordable units if they seek to meet the requirement off-site. The requirement for off-site affordable-housing units will increase to 18 percent of total units from 15 percent. Zone C will remain at 15 percent under the new policy.

If the developers want to pay into the City’s affordable-housing fund instead of building the units, it will cost more in Zones A and B. For Zone A, it will increase from $200,000 per unit to $380,000. For Zone B, it will increase from $200,000 to $300,000. The payout for Zone C will remain unchanged at $200,000.

The new affordable-housing policy leaves in place the on-site requirement that 15 percent of market-rate units, or 13 percent of the total units, be affordable.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) disagreed with that move. In a statement released by spokesperson Sally Swenson, the JPNDC said, “We support the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s policy that 25 percent of new units in large developments should be affordable. We believe the City should have substantially increased the on-site requirement above 13 percent in order to meet the tremendous need for affordable in this community.”

The statement goes on to say that JPNDC will use the Washington/Columbus corridor planning process to continue to push for “an affordability percentage that’s higher than 13 percent as part of the rezoning that will result from the process.”

“The increased payout requirement is one improvement. If developers don’t create affordable units on-site, IDP payouts are an important resource for new affordable housing development,” the statement said.

Kathy Brown of Boston Tenant Coalition (BTC) said the new affordable-housing policy is “a mixed bag.” BTC was in talks with the City over the policy and she said that she is appreciative of those talks.

Brown said that raising the payouts into the affordable-housing fund is “substantial money” that is “desperately needed.” And, she added, “the higher payout encourages more on-site affordable housing” which people in JP and other neighborhoods want.

Brown said the City was “afraid” that raising requirement for affordable-housing units on-site would have “chilled” development. But, she said, the City could have pressed developers on that and it wouldn’t have “scared them.”

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