Mayor Wu Announces Executive Order to Streamline Affordable Housing Approval

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Today Mayor Michelle Wu announced that she will sign an executive order aimed at accelerating 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 to remove barriers and facilitate the process of developing affordable housing citywide.

The current affordable housing approval process can take up to 337 days. This executive order aims to cut that time in half.

“Building a Boston for all means ensuring that all of our residents and families have access to safe, affordable housing in our communities,” he said Mayor Michelle Wu. “By streamlining the timeline for affordable housing projects, we will find ways to make our processes more predictable for all projects to keep our city green and growing. I am grateful to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the BPDA for their leadership and I look forward to the future in accelerating our affordability efforts in our neighborhoods.”

“This executive order requires city governments to prioritize the review of affordable housing developments and create new processes that will streamline our work and the work of our development partners,” he said Housing Manager Sheila Dillon. “We know that access to affordable housing helps stabilize the lives of those who receive it by giving them predictability in budgeting and allowing them to gain a foothold in our neighborhoods. This prioritization is correct.”

The executive order consists of five components aimed at increasing the speed at which affordable housing projects are approved for development:

  • Create a more efficient way for Article 80 development review and approval
  • Examine and address the zoning challenges for affordable housing development
  • Prioritize affordable housing in the development processes
  • Build a system to track affordable housing appraisals and approvals
  • Establish a governance structure to ensure effective implementation

The ordinance directs the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to recommend changes to Section 80 of the Boston Zoning Code to create an alternative way of reviewing affordable housing developments. The new process will include community engagement and a thorough agency review, but will also establish clear and accelerated timelines. The order indicates that current required review processes will not take place if there has been prior community engagement in the sale of city- or BPDA-owned land proposed for affordable housing development.

“The BPDA looks forward to creating a process that will streamline the review and approval of affordable housing developments,” he said Planning chief Arthur Jemison. “These projects are critical to increasing our city’s housing supply and making Boston more affordable – one of the BPDA’s top three priorities, along with resilience and equity.”

To remove barriers to affordable housing development, the BPDA will study and address zoning challenges for affordable housing development. Within 120 days, the BPDA will issue a report on possible changes to the Boston Zoning Code that would incentivize the creation of affordable housing while minimizing the need for variances or other permitting burdens for these projects.

The order instructs the responsible authorities, committees and commissions of the city government to immediately give priority to affordable developments in all meeting schedules. It also directs those agencies to evaluate existing screening requirements to identify those that can be done concurrently and those that are potentially unnecessary. These agencies include:

  • Boston planning and development agency
  • Mayor’s Housing Office
  • Boston Civic Design Commission
  • Boston Zoning Commission
  • Inspection Service Department
  • Boston Landmarks Commission
  • Boston Parks Commission
  • Public Improvement Commission
  • Boston Department of Transportation

“We greatly appreciate Mayor Wu’s outstanding leadership in improving affordable housing in the city of Boston,” he said Aaron Gornstein, President and CEO of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). “This new executive order will make a tremendous difference in accelerating new affordable housing proposals, improving coordination between key city authorities and reducing overall costs. We look forward to working closely with the Mayor and her leadership team to implement these measures so we can serve more low-income households as quickly as possible.”

“In the face of an unprecedented housing crisis, it is very meaningful that Mayor Wu takes action to implement a review process for affordable housing development that emphasizes an accelerated and coordinated review while balancing accountability and community engagement,” he said Leslie Reid, CEO of Madison Park Development Corporation. “This proposed regulation is a critical tool to ensure we can continue the important work of promoting vibrant, healthy neighborhoods that support the well-being of all.”

The order also requires that the City of Boston form an Affordable Housing Development Review Advisory Committee to evaluate actions being taken to prioritize and reduce the time associated with development review and approval of affordable housing developments. This committee is made up of representatives from city authorities critical to the review process and from external organizations familiar with the review and approval process. During this review, the city will seek ways to make the permitting processes for all future development projects more predictable. The city will set up the committee within 90 days of the mayor signing it

The order builds on Mayor Wu’s initiatives to address housing affordability in Boston, including investing $380 million in housing affordability through the city’s operating budget, capital budget and federal rehabilitation funds, and filing a home rule petition on real estate transfer fees and senior citizen property tax relief, signed an executive order to positively promote fair housing, convened a Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee to inform future proposed legislation, hired the city’s first planning officer, and announced the results of the citywide property review.

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