Today, Mayor Michelle Wu announced that she will sign an executive order designed to speed up the production of affordable housing in the coming days. She made the announcement during her speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at their annual Government Affairs Forum. This executive order is a response to the challenges facing Boston’s housing market in order to remove barriers and make the process for developing affordable housing easier across the city.
The current process to approve affordable housing can take as long as 337 days. This executive order aims to reduce that time in half.
“Building a Boston for everyone means ensuring that all of our residents and families have access to safe, affordable housing across our communities,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “By streamlining the timeline on affordable housing projects we’ll identify ways to make our processes more predictable for all projects to keep our city green and growing. I’m grateful to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the BPDA for their leadership and look forward to accelerating our efforts for affordability across our neighborhoods.”
“This executive order will require City departments to prioritize the review of affordable housing developments and create new processes that will streamline our work and the work of our development partners,” said Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon. “We know that access to affordable housing helps stabilize the lives of those who receive it – giving them predictability in budgeting, and allowing them to put down roots in our neighborhoods. This prioritization is the right thing to do.”
The executive order consists of five components designed to increase the speed by which affordable housing projects are approved for development:
- Create a more efficient path for Article 80 development review and approval
- Study and address zoning challenges to affordable housing development
- Prioritize affordable housing in the development review processes
- Create a system to track affordable housing reviews and approvals
- Establish a governance structure to ensure effective implementation
The order directs the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to recommend changes to Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code to establish an alternative path for the review of affordable housing developments. The new process will include community engagement and thorough agency review, but also establish clear and accelerated timelines. The order directs that any currently required review processes not take place if there was previous community engagement during the disposition of City- or BPDA-owned land that is proposed for affordable housing development.
“The BPDA is looking forward to creating a process that streamlines review and approval of affordable housing developments,” said Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison. “These projects are critical to boosting our city’s housing supply and making Boston more affordable – one of the BPDA’s top three priorities, along with resilience and equity.”
To eliminate barriers to affordable housing development, the BPDA will study and address zoning challenges to affordable housing development. Within 120 days, the BPDA will issue a report on potential Boston Zoning Code changes that would incentivize the creation of affordable housing while minimizing the need for variances or other permitting burdens for these projects.
The order directs the relevant agencies, boards, and commissions of City government to immediately give affordable developments priority status on any and all meeting schedules. It also directs these agencies to evaluate existing review requirements to identify those that can be done concurrently and those that are potentially unnecessary. These agencies include the following:
- Boston Planning and Development Agency
- Mayor’s Office of Housing
- Boston Civic Design Commission
- Boston Zoning Commission
- Inspectional Service Department
- Boston Landmarks Commission
- Boston Parks Commission
- Public Improvement Commission
- Boston Transportation Department
“We greatly appreciate Mayor Wu’s outstanding leadership to increase affordable housing options in the City of Boston,” said Aaron Gornstein, President and CEO of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). “This new executive order will make an enormous difference in expediting new affordable housing proposals, enhancing coordination among key city agencies, and reducing overall costs. We look forward to working closely with the Mayor and her leadership team on implementing these measures so that we can help more low income households as quickly as possible.”
“In the face of an unprecedented crisis in housing, it is very meaningful that Mayor Wu is taking actions to implement a review process for affordable housing development that emphasizes expedited and coordinated review while balancing accountability and community engagement, “ said Leslie Reid, CEO Madison Park Development Corporation. “This proposed ordinance is a critical tool to ensure that we can continue the important work of fostering vibrant, healthy neighborhoods that support well-being for all.”
The order also requires the City of Boston form an Affordable Housing Development Review Advisory Committee to evaluate the actions being taken to prioritize and lessen the time associated with the development review and permitting of affordable housing developments. This committee will have representatives from City agencies that are critical to the review process and external organizations that are knowledgeable of the review and permitting process. During this review, the City will look to identify ways to make the approvals processes more predictable for all development projects moving forward. The City will establish the committee within 90 days following the Mayor signing
The order builds on Mayor Wu’s initiatives to address Boston’s housing affordability, including investing $380 million in housing affordability through the City’s Operating budget, the Capital budget, and federal recovery funds, filing a Home Rule Petition relative to real estate transfer fees and senior property tax relief, signing an Executive Order relative to affirmatively furthering fair housing, convening a Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee to inform future legislative proposals, hiring the City’s first Chief of Planning, and announcing the results of the Citywide land audit.