By Adam Swift
A proposed change to Boston’s inclusionary development policy needs to offer more opportunity for truly affordable housing units in the city, according to housing advocates who spoke during a Boston Planning and Development Agency online forum on Saturday, Jan. 21.
BPDA and city officials laid out the background of inclusionary development and the proposed zoning proposal, as well as the path it needs to take for final approval, during the forum.
Mayor Michelle Wu announced proposed changes to the IDP policy on December 15, 2022.
The Mayor’s proposed changes to IDP include: Lowering the threshold from 10 to seven units, and, for rental projects, increasing the proportion of the project that is income-restricted from 13% to 20% of the project, while also deepening affordability requirements. In addition, 17% of the project will be income restricted at an average of 60% of Area Median Income, and an additional 3% of the project will be offered at market rents and reserved for people with housing vouchers.
“Up until now, the only way we got inclusionary development units was because a project needed some kind of zoning relief and was 10 or more units,” said Tim Davis, a deputy director in the mayor’s housing office. “With this new power that was given to us in 2021, we can now put inclusionary housing into the zoning code, and this process is part of the legislatively required process to include a feasibility study, housing conditions study and to put that in and then go forward with zoning.”
The current policy applied to projects with 10 or more units that require zoning relief. In 2015, the city created three zones for inclusionary development.
“Looking at the proposed inclusionary zoning, developments that do not need zoning relief and are built as right will still have to support income-restricted housing,” said Davis. “The proposal is to drop the trigger from 10 units to seven units.”
Under the new policy, rather than requiring a set number of inclusionary units, requirements will be calculated in square footage to allow for more flexibility and the production of family sized units, Davis said.
“For example, if we would have required 15 units under the old policy, but a lot of them were studios and one bedrooms, we might get 14 units instead of 15 units because we are also getting two-bedroom units as part of the package,” Davis said.
The biggest change in the housing zones would see Charlestown moving from Zone B to Zone A, and East Boston moving from Zone B to Zone C when it comes to some of the specifics of the inclusionary development plan.
“For home ownership in zones A and B, we would be looking at getting 10 percent of the square footage at 80 percent of area median income, and an additional 10 percent at 100 percent of area median income for a total of 20 percent of square footage for and average AMI of 90 percent,” said Davis. “Under Zone C, we get 6.5 percent square footage of 80 percent and 6.5 percent at 100 percent of area median income for a total of 13 percent of square footage of average area income. The reason why we have differentiated for Zone C is that we are finding through our usability analysis that even at 13 percent, condo projects in the outer neighborhoods are not actually currently feasible.”
Bryan Glasscock, the deputy director of regulatory planning and zoning for the BPDA, highlighted the next steps in the process for the inclusionary development changes.
“As with any potential change to the zoning code, there is a fair amount of public process that’s required,” said Glasscock. “We’ve scheduled … two citywide public meetings to present the work that has been done and what our proposed response is to take to the zoning commission.”
After gathering feedback from the public meetings, the final proposed zoning amendment would go to the BPDA board to recommend the zoning change.
“Unlike ordinary zoning, this particular proposal would also then go to the Boston City Council for a vote,” Glasscock said. If it passes at the council level, it would then go forward for a public hearing before the Boston Zoning Commission for approval, and eventually be signed by the mayor and become part of the zoning code.
During the public question and answer period on Saturday, Sasha Goodfriend read a statement on behalf of the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston (CTAB), an organization made up of over 20 housing justice organizations that have been advocating for a stronger inclusionary development policy since 2017.
The points addressed in the CTAB statement were echoed by a number of the speakers who followed Goodfriend.
Goodfriend CTAB recently worked with several councilors to introduce a resolution that called for Mayor Wu to do an executive order to strengthen IDP and specifically decrease the income limit for rental units from 70 percent AMI to an average of 40 percent AMI, and decrease the limit of ownership units from 80 to 100 percent AMI to 50 to 100 percent AMI.
“There are some changes in this proposal that CTAB is very excited about, including requiring a percentage of building square footage to be affordable, using an average AMI to allow units to reach lower AMIs, and increasing the payout units,” said Goodfriend. “But importantly, the average of 60 percent AMI must be lowered to an average of 40 percent AMI, we believe, specifically to close the racial housing gap. In the city of Boston, most Black, Latinx, and Asian renters have household incomes of less than $31,000 to $37,000, and this IDP proposal keeps most units at 60 to 100 percent AMI, which is about $84,000 to $140,000 for a family of four.”
Goodfriend said CTAB does support the mayor’s proposal to mandate 3 percent of units for mobile voucher holders because it believes it will make units more accessible to lower income households.
“However, this proposal to increase the set aside percentage from 13 to 17 percent must be increased, and vouchers can be used on top of that higher number,” she said. “We also believe Zone C must have the same affordability requirements for ownership as the rest of the city and shouldn’t stay at 13 percent.”
Lastly, Goodfriend said the proposal should ensure that the IDP units are made permanently affordable and not converted back to market-rate units.
Several other Boston residents also spoke to advocate for more accessible affordable units for disabled renters.