Affordable housing activists want boost in development measures

Affordable housing activists are calling on Mayor Walsh to strengthen the city’s Inclusive Development Policy (IDP) and urging state lawmakers to pass a home rule petition that would boost developer linkage fees.

At a virtual press conference last week, a group dubbed the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston said its members want the city to mandate that any new development build in, or pay for, 33 percent of the units to be affordable, a big jump from the current IDP formula of 13 percent. The activists also want changes in how the city defines income levels so that units are more affordable for residents with the greatest need along with the release of full data about the IDP and development in the community.

According to the them, affordable rental units should be listed at 30 percent to 70 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) and ownership units should be 50 percent to 100 percent AMI.

“Before the pandemic the need for affordable housing was one of the top issues,” said Karen Chen, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association and involved in the coalition. “That is still true during the pandemic, and during recovery it is going to continue to be the top issue.”

Chen added that the city should look to address the long waiting lists for affordable housing applicants. 

Activists also called on the Legislature to pass the home rule petition signed by Walsh in September 2019 before its session ends on Dec. 31. The bill, which has been stuck in a committee since last January, would give the city the authority to update its linkage program, which funds affordable housing and job training from money from commercial development projects. It would also codify the IDP into law.

“We really need our state legislators, the Boston delegation in particular, to call on state leadership to move this bill,” said Chen. “It doesn’t cost any money but really gives the city of Boston the ability to work with the residents and find solutions to the critical and urgent housing needs.”

Markiesha Moore, a member of the Dorchester Not for Sale group, said residents need more affordable housing,as well as increased access to higher-paying jobs in order to resist displacement. 

“The rents are going up, but people are sitting at home and no one’s income is coming up,” said Moore. “We’re being priced out so that new people who can afford these units are coming in. The jobs that are coming in we are not able to attain because we have no training or access. We can’t get a job to afford the place that we are in.” 

Moore referenced the massive Dorchester Bay City project, proposed by Accordia Partners LLC, to transform the 34-acre former Bayside Expo site into a new community with a mix of housing, retail, and public space along the waterfront in Columbia Point.  Under the current IDP formula, Accordia must set aside 226 of its 1,740 total units as affordable at 70 percent AMI.

Accordia has committed to surpassing that requirement. Last week, the development team pledged that 261 units would be priced at 60 percent AMI. And while the city requires that Accordia pay $32.9 million into funding off-site housing, the team proposes to pay $56.4 million. 

But Moore and others said that this is not enough. “I will say that they need to do better, the city needs to do better. They need to represent the people,” she said. 

Christine Varriale, a volunteer with the Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation Affordability Action Committee, said that her neighborhood has “watched more square footage of development get approved in our neighborhood than in any other” over the last few years.  

According to Varriale, 2,711 units of housing in Allston-Brighton are currently under BPDA review, and only 342 units are affordable under the city’s current IDP. “Those are big numbers for market rate units, but not so much for the IDP.  Even the 342 units are not affordable to most people living in Allston- Brighton, since the median income in our neighborhood is at around the 50 percent AMI level, like you see citywide,” she said, adding, “we need sweeping reform to IDP to help build affordable housing that better fits the demographics of our neighborhood, especially with an impending eviction wave due to Covid-19.” 

If the city’s IDP were set to 33 percent from 13 percent, Varriale pointed out, those numbers would increase from 342 affordable units to 900. 
“Just think of how much we’ve lost because we haven’t updated IDP,” she said. 

The coalition will be hosting a series of virtual phone banking sessions in an effort to persuade state legislators to pass H. 4115 and also to call on Walsh and BPDA Director Brian Golden to upgrade IDP and affordability measures. 

Information on the phone baking sessions and the petition are available at affordableboston.org.