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City gives final OK to dropping parking requirements for affordable housing

The move is aimed at making it easier to build lower-cost apartments in Boston. The measure now heads to Mayor Wu’s desk for her approval.

Rules approved by the Boston Zoning Commission Wednesday would eliminate parking standards for many affordable housing developments, like this building for lower-income and formerly homeless people that's being planned in Jamaica Plain. It was held up for nearly a year by a lawsuit challenging its parking regulations.The Community Builders

A plan to eliminate parking requirements at many affordable housing developments in Boston won its final city approval Wednesday and now heads to Mayor Michelle Wu’s desk for her likely signature.

The proposal — passed by the City Council in October and approved by the Zoning Commission Wednesday morning — applies to new buildings where at least 60 percent of apartments are set aside at below-market rents. They would be exempt from rules that mandate a minimum number of parking spaces per unit in many parts of the city. It’s an effort to lower the cost of building affordable housing and to clear a common legal roadblock for such projects.

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“We’ve just made it easier to build affordable housing in the City of Boston without unnecessary and costly delays,” said City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who spearheaded the proposal along with Councilor Matt O’Malley. “Today we took action in response to our affordability crisis: We’re putting housing for people first, ahead of cars.”

In most of Boston, new residential buildings are required to have a certain number of parking spaces per unit — the precise number is determined by neighborhood and proximity to an MBTA station. Developers often seek exemptions to those rules to allow for fewer spaces, noting that garage parking, in particular, can add tens of thousands of dollars per unit to the cost of a project. Neighbors sometimes push back on those exemptions, concerned that residents of the new building will take up scarce street parking if they can’t park in their own building. Sometimes the disputes land in court, slowing construction and driving up costs even more.

That’s what happened with a building the Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders are launching in Jamaica Plain to house and support formerly homeless people. A neighboring property owner sued, challenging a parking variance the building received from the city, delaying the project for nearly a year. That dispute, in part, prompted this legislation, which advocates say will both lower the cost to build affordable units and make them harder to block in court.

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“Today we became one step closer to addressing Boston’s housing crisis,” O’Malley said. “Eliminating parking minimums is an impactful and commonsense policy solution that can help resolve the city’s need for more affordable housing.”

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Wu signaled she would sign the measure when it reaches her desk.

“We need every tool in our toolbox to address our city’s housing crisis,” she said. “Eliminating parking minimums removes an outdated standard from our zoning code and will spur new housing to make it easier for Bostonians to live and stay in our city.”


Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.