Consultants selected to lead Boston IDP, linkage overhauls

Boston has selected two consulting firms to guide changes to its linkage and Inclusionary Development Policy. Mayor Michelle Wu today announced the consultant selection and an advisory committee of policy experts, affordable housing advocates including Dorchester-based groups, and developers to take part in shaping Boston’s new affordability ratios.

California-based firm David Paul Rosen & Associates, which oversaw the study leading to Cambridge’s affordable housing standards, will conduct a similar study in Boston. Karl Seidman Consulting Services and ConsultEcon, Inc. will study the city’s linkage program, focusing particularly on lab space.

The city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) came about through Mayor Thomas Menino’s executive order in 2000. It sets requirements for building a certain number of affordable units in or near developments of a certain size – currently 10 units or greater. With city approval, developers can alternatively pay into an affordable housing fund. Linkage funds are extracted from large scale commercial developments and routed into city housing and job trusts.

Since its inception, Menino and his successors updated the IDP terms within Boston, limited by city powers to applying affordable unit requirements to projects that required variances from the Zoning Board of Appeal. IDP was last overhauled in 2015 by Mayor Martin Walsh, an iteration that introduced three city zones with slightly different rates of affordability requirements that limited how far away from a market rate building a developer could build affordable off-site housing.

Home Rule petitions approved by the state legislature in 2021 to add IDP and linkage into Boston’s enabling legislation now gives the city greater leeway in amending and applying these affordable housing tools. With that change, former Mayor Walsh upped the city’s linkage exaction to $15.39 per square foot and the city redoubled efforts to reevaluate IDP.

According to the Office of Housing, the IDP study "will look at a range of options to update the policy, including increasing the proportion of units that are income-restricted to at least 20 percent, deepening affordability requirements, increasing contribution fees to the IDP Fund, and other reforms so as to better meet Boston’s housing needs."

On the linkage front, the study will evaluate the current balance between new commercial development and the city’s affordable housing needs. Recommendations may include increasing the linkage fees, lowering the square footage that triggers linkage fees, and differentiating between different development types, according to the city.

In an interview last month, as the city assessed responses to their Requests for Proposals for the consultant positions, housing chief Sheila Dillon said the city’s focus on lab space in the linkage component reflected increasing demand for life sciences.

The consultant would be asked to evaluate “what can we extract from commercial development,” Dillon said, crucially whether the “the economic conditions of lab space” would allow the city to “extract an even higher rate.”

The Requests for Proposals received responses from consultants in late February, according to Dillon. After analyzing the respondents, the city selected David Paul Rosen and Karl Seidman.

“We have committed to a process that has community input, technical advisory – we’re going to set up a technical advisory to work with the consultant and understand their recommendations, their analysis,” Dillon said. “We have very much committed to making the consultant’s findings available to the public and make them transparent.”

The technical advisory committee, announced Wednesday, includes Donna Brown, executive director of the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation; Jesse Kanson-Benanav, executive director of Abundant Housing Massachusetts; George Lee of the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston/Keep it 100 for Real Affordable Housing & Racial Justice; Abe Menzin, principal and executive vice president of development at Samuels & Associates; Greg Minott, managing principal of the DREAM Collaborative; Markeisha Moore of the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston and Dorchester Not For Sale; Leslie Reid, CEO of Madison Park Development Corporation; Erica Schwarz, board member of the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust; Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts; Peter Spellios, principal of Transom Real Estate; and Justin Steil, associate professor of law and urban planning at MIT.

Both the IDP and linkage studies should be completed over the next several months, according to the city, and consultants will make policy recommendations to the Mayor’s Office of Housing in September.

Both the IDP and linkage studies should be completed over the next several months, according to the city, and consultants will make policy recommendations to the Mayor’s Office of Housing in September.

“We want a very transparent process,” Dillon said. “We want certainly to hear from people along the way, interested parties – developers, certainly affordable housing advocates. But we also want to move the process along, because every day that we don’t move the process along, we could be foregoing resources.”

Those resources are substantial. Though the city has a few new pipelines for affordable housing money, including Community Preservation Act funds and a sudden influx from the American Rescue Plan Act, linkage funds and IDP requirements offer dedicated long-term pots of money and pledged affordable units.

Linkage funds are managed by the housing office’s Neighborhood Housing Trust, which has collected $102 million over the last 10 years, according to the city. Since its start in the early 1980s, Boston’s linkage program has funded some 7,149 new income-restricted units, and preserved 5,795 existing income-restricted units. IDP, similarly, has created almost 3,600 on-site and off-site income-restricted units with another 2,500 additional income-restricted units created or preserved through the fund, according to the city.

Dillon said in March that she was looking forward to the consultant selection, after which the team could “hopefully make very good decisions about what we can extract without absolutely ending development in the city, and then working with the zoning commission and the city council to put these revised requirements into zoning.”

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