Boston reconsiders policy reserving housing units for moderate-income tenants

By Sharon O’Malley | constructiondive.com | July 15, 2015

Dive Brief:

A Boston law requiring developers to make room for moderate-income residents in new condominium and apartment buildings “does virtually nothing to solve the housing crisis,” according to Northeastern University.

So Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is reconsidering a city policy that sets aside 13% of units in those new buildings. Among the alternative options is a plan to allow developers to build separate affordable-housing properties elsewhere or opt to pay into a fund instead of designating affordable units within their buildings.

Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, said reserving apartments for lower-income tenants in expansive buildings in better neighborhoods — the vision behind the inclusionary policies that Boston and about 500 other cities have adopted — results in fewer affordable homes. “There are a lot of areas where it would be cheaper to build middle-income housing,” he told Bloomberg.

Dive Insight:

Building affordable housing on cheaper land, however, “undermines one of the goals of inclusionary zoning, which is economic inclusion — to counter the concentration of poverty,” Rachel Meltzer, an urban policy professor at the New School in New York, told Bloomberg.

As Boston enjoys a construction boom that is largely focused on high-end condominiums, offices and hotels, moderate- and low-income residents cannot afford housing in the city.

A researcher for the National Housing Conference told Bloomberg that inclusionary programs can “harness this new growth in luxury housing to build in some affordability for the broad middle that earns too much to qualify for federal housing assistance but too little to afford what’s available.”

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