Mayor Wu announced today she's ordered up studies on several potential ways to increase the amount of affordable housing in Boston, including increasing the number of affordable units developers have to build or help pay for and using more city land for development, which the city can do on its own, and creating a real-estate transfer fee and establishing rent stabilization, which would require approval of the state legislature and governor.
Wu also wants to look at how to "deepen" the city's current definition of affordable, which is based on the median income not just in Boston, but in surrounding communities, which include such well off cities and towns as Newton, Wellesley and Brookline.
Among the changes Wu wants studied: Increasing the current minimum percentage of affordable units for new residential construction from 13% to 20% and to apply that to projects with fewer than the current 10-unit minimum.
She also plans to look at increasing the housing "linkage" fees that developers of commercial buildings - including life-sciences labs - pay. The money from these fees goes into a BPDA fund used to acquire or maintain affordable housing units.
In recent years, the city has developed new zoning in some fast growing areas - such as along Dorchester Avenue in South Boston and Washington Street in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury - under which developers are allowed to build denser projects than would otherwise be allowed in exchange for a higher percentage of units being rented or sold as affordable. At the same time, the Zoning Board of Appeal has sometimes questioned what appears to be a growing number of nine-unit proposals - exempt from affordable-unit considerations, which only start with 10-unit projects.
Wu also wants to look at accelerating the sale or lease of vacant or little used city property for housing. Under policies begun under Marty Walsh, the city has sold off a number of vacant or parking lots in Nubian Square for housing. The Walsh administration also began looking at putting housing atop on some city buildings, such as fire stations and libraries.
All of that can be done through action by the City Council and Wu.
However, Wu also wants to look at other ways to increase affordable housing in Boston, including by levying a new tax on real-estate transfers in Boston, with the money going into an affordable-housing fund, and by looking at ways of "stabilizing" rents in the city.
Wu said she will set up a Rent Stabilization Advisory Group "to consider the tools available and necessary to protect tenants and stem displacement, with a goal of drafting legislation for the next state legislative session."