Boston Strong news – Boston, MA: Office of the Mayor reports 12.17.2019.

Legislation will strengthen Boston’s Linkage, Inclusionary Development Policy.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh today joined advocates, residents and workers at the State House to testify before the Joint Committee on Housing in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Kevin Honan that will provide the City of Boston with more flexibility to leverage the strong development market to fund affordable housing and workforce training programs. Originally introduced by the Mayor as a Home Rule Petition in January, he signed “An Act to Further Leverage Commercial Development to Build Housing, Create Jobs, and Preserve Inclusionary Development” with the support of the City Council in September. 

“Housing continues to be the biggest economic challenge facing the people of Boston. Not only do we need more housing to keep up with the demand — we need more housing at price points that families can afford,” said Mayor Walsh. “This bill will allow us to leverage Boston’s strong growth to create more opportunities for housing and job training for our residents. I respectfully ask the legislature to recommend passage of this important bill.”

Boston’s Linkage program provides funding for affordable housing and workforce training through payments by large-scale commercial real estate development. Under the current law, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) is only allowed to adjust Linkage every three years based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Currently, commercial developments over 100,000 square feet pay $10.81 per square foot for housing and jobs Linkage. The money collected is made available through competitive funding rounds administered by the Neighborhood Housing Trust and the City of Boston’s Office of Workforce Development.  

If passed by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by the Governor, the legislation will allow Boston to make adjustments to the required payment and program guidelines, including annual adjustments, allowing for Linkage to be more closely aligned with the market and offering additional opportunities for the creation of affordable housing and workforce development.

“This legislation advances civil rights and fair housing while making our local development processes more effective, more accountable, and more affordable for Bostonians,” said Councilor Lydia Edwards, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development. “Updating linkage and inclusionary development is critical for Boston, and I urge the bill’s imminent passage.”

Since 2014, the City has invested $43 million in affordable housing from Linkage payments that it has leveraged for a total of $723 million in additional public funds across 66 developments. Those projects have created 1,546 new affordable units and preserved 749 existing affordable units. Between 2017 and 2018, $2.86 million in Linkage was disbursed to help more than 2,000 low- and moderate-income residents access job training and education programs. 

“When I arrived in the United States from Haiti, I didn’t speak English and that made it difficult to get a job. Once I learned the City of Boston provided funding for local language and job training classes, I was able to study English and join a training program for careers in the hospitality industry. These resources helped me get to where I am today,” said Gregory Aupont, a houseman at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Local 26 apprentice, in his testimony at the State House on Tuesday. “I am grateful to Mayor Walsh and the Neighborhood Jobs Trust for investing in workforce development. I hope that others can benefit from this program as much as I have.”

The legislation will also codify Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) into the Boston Zoning Code. Under the current policy, IDP requires that developers of buildings with 10 or more units seeking zoning relief or building on City of Boston-owned land set aside a percentage of their on-site units as income-restricted, create off-site income-restricted units, or make a payment to the IDP fund. As the BPDA completes comprehensive planning in Boston’s neighborhoods and updates Boston’s existing zoning, more market rate residential projects may become ‘as of right’ and be exempt from IDP requirements. The legislation would allow Boston to strengthen its IDP as a strategy to capture affordable housing units and funding from projects which are zoning compliant, expanding the work under Mayor Walsh to create and preserve Boston’s affordable housing. 

Since the inception of IDP in 2000, the policy has resulted in 2,706 units of stable, income-restricted housing for moderate- and middle-income families, and $154 million in funding. When combined with other affordable housing resources, this funding has supported the completion or preservation of 2,006 additional units of housing, affordable to very low-, low-, and moderate-income households.

“Becoming one of the lucky recipients of The Beverly housing lottery has changed my and my family’s life for the better. I now live in a more centralized location with direct access to the grocery store and public transportation. I can walk my son to school,” said Tammy Brown, a resident of The Beverly, a fully income-restricted residential building developed by Related Beal in Downtown Boston. “These types of initiatives are immeasurable when it comes to the future of Boston.” 

The BPDA is currently working with outside consultants, the development community and housing and job advocates to explore policy changes to both Linkage and IDP beyond the legislative changes made in the Home Rule Petition.  

Building on his commitment to building and preserving housing that is affordable to residents, Mayor Walsh yesterday signed a home rule petition that would give Boston the ability to implement a transfer fee of up to two percent on the purchase price of any private real estate sale over $2 million in the City of Boston, as a means to generate additional funding for affordable housing. 

The Mayor’s commitment to increasing affordable housing in the City is reflected in Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030, Boston’s latest quarterly housing report, and the City’s overall housing goal of 69,000 new units by 2030. These 69,000 new units include 15,820 new income-restricted units, which would elevate Boston’s income-restricted inventory total to 70,000, or one in five of all housing units. In addition, the plan set a goal to preserve 85 percent of Boston’s most at-risk, privately-owned affordable units, and to purchase 1,000 units of rental housing stock from the speculative market and income-restrict them for perpetuity. 

Below are Mayor Walsh’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, Chairman Crighton, Chairman Honan, and members of the committee. My name is Martin J. Walsh, and I’m Mayor of Boston. I’m here today to testify in support of House Bill No. 4115, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Honan.

This bill will allow us to leverage Boston’s strong growth to create more opportunities for housing and job training for our residents. I welcome this opportunity to talk about why these changes are necessary. And to start, I’d like to give some context about Boston’s growth, and the steps that brought us here today.

Right now, Boston is experiencing a building boom. In 2019, we approved about $4 billion of development. At the same time, our population continues to climb-we’re going to hit 700,000 residents soon. More and more people want to make Boston their home. But housing continues to be the biggest economic challenge facing the people of Boston and across the region. Not only do we need more housing to keep up with demand-we need more housing at price points that families can afford. Traditionally, we’ve relied on federal resources for affordable housing-but we can’t anymore. So it’s up to us to grow our own resources-to strengthen the tools we have, and create new ones.

And that’s what we’ve been doing: Under our Housing Plan, we’ve created over 31,000 new homes, and 20% are subsidized affordable homes. For the first time, we’re using City funds to renovate public housing developments, through our Capital Plan and the sale of Winthrop Garage. We got the Community Preservation Act passed with overwhelming support from the voters, and we worked with you to increase the state match. Yesterday, we signed a home rule petition for a new real estate transfer fee. And today, we are taking the next steps to strengthen two of our biggest affordable housing tools: Inclusionary Development and Linkage.

This bill will allow us to make two important changes: First, it gives us the flexibility to adjust Linkage payments we require from commercial developers. It will help to keep pace with the market, so we can continue to leverage our City’s growth. In addition to affordable housing, Linkage also funds many job training and education projects. These opportunities help working Bostonians get better jobs and careers.

In a little while, you’re going to hear from Gregory Aupont. He’s an immigrant from Haiti who received job training through our Neighborhood Jobs Trust. I had the pleasure of hearing his story at the City’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust Awards at the More Than Words bookstore in the South End. He is now an employee at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and a Local 26 apprentice. He’s going to talk about what this program means to him, and why more residents should be able to benefit from these opportunities.

Second, this bill makes Inclusionary Development a permanent part of Boston’s Zoning Code. Since it started in 2000, IDP has helped create thousands of units of income-restricted housing. We strengthened the policy in 2015, which helped us create even more homes. We’re taking the next step to codify IDP into the Zoning Code. That way, even if we make changes or updates to zoning, the affordability requirements remain in place. This is an important way to make sure the benefits of our City’s growth are felt throughout our neighborhoods. When people see a crane or a new building going up, they will understand that project helps fund more affordable units in their neighborhood.

Today, you’re also going to hear from Tammy Brown, a life-long Bostonian who lives in The Beverly with her two children. The Beverly is the first fully income-restricted building for families in Downtown Boston in decades. It was funded by revenue from neighboring developments. It’s a great example of how developers, the City, and the state worked together to make these units affordable for working families.

And you will also hear from Airline who moved into an IDP Unit at Liberty Place in Chinatown about a year and a half ago.

At the end of the day, this bill is about helping residents build good lives here in Boston. It’s about strengthening and expanding our middle class. And it’s about making our City, as a whole, more resilient. We’re going to continue to look for tools and resources to create more opportunities for residents. I want to thank the many housing advocates, the City Council, and our partners for working with us on this bill.