With new housing plans in the works, Newton is getting closer to meeting the state’s “safe harbor” threshold under the Chapter 40B law, which is intended to encourage more affordable housing construction in Massachusetts.
Chapter 40B allows developers to seek waivers from some local zoning regulations to build housing if less than 10 percent of a community’s housing stock is eligible for the state’s subsidized housing inventory. Currently, 9.8 percent of the city’s housing stock is included on that list.
Local projects proposed under Chapter 40B include developments by Northland in Newton Upper Falls, and another at the city-owned West Newton Armory — both of which are expected to be considered by the Zoning Board of Appeals later this month.
Two others are under construction, and a fifth is being proposed along Route 9, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.
“Newton has not yet reached that safe harbor status. The recent calculation, however, showed we have made progress and are getting close,” Fuller said in a statement.
Fuller, city councilors, and neighborhood advocates have long argued that more needs to be done to help create and preserve affordable housing in Newton.
The region faces an affordable housing crisis — within the Interstate 495 belt, the median price of a single-family home is $825,000, according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.— and Fuller has joined with other mayors to support new housing development.
Housing affordability is even more pressing in Newton, where the median price for a single-family home was just shy of $1.5 million in August, according to the real estate website Redfin, up from $1 million before the pandemic.
The city has started an affordable housing trust fund to support creating and preserving homes, and the city has purchased land near the Williams School, part of which would be used for affordable housing. Local advocates have called on Fuller to set aside millions in federal aid to acquire property for affordable housing, and other assistance for lower-income households.
Under Chapter 40B, the subsidized housing inventory may include market-rate rental units if they are in developments where a portion of the project is affordable to households earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area median income.
That income level is $140,200 for a family of four, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Roughly half — about 1,600 — of the 3,170 units in Newton that are included in the state’s subsidized housing inventory can be characterized as deed-restricted units affordable to households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income, according to a Newton Department of Planning and Development memo.
While the city is making “significant progress” in reaching the state’s Chapter 40B threshold, that calculation could change as officials receive updated census figures next year, according to a memo from the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
The update is expected to show an increase in the total number of housing units to more than 33,000, and the city could drop back under the 10 percent threshold.
In the meantime, city officials are reviewing proposals from several developers to create new housing in Newton.
Northland is seeking zoning board approval for a development near its already-approved project at the corner of Oak and Needham streets in Newton Upper Falls. The newer proposal would create 410 units on a 7-acre site with access from Charlemont and Christina streets.
According to Fuller, 103 units would be reserved for households earning 80 percent of the area median income.
The city also has made its own proposal under Chapter 40B with a pitch to create a 43-unit housing development at the former West Newton Armory located at 1135-1137 Washington St.
The city is working with Metro West Collaborative Development and Civico Development on the project, and all of the units would be affordable under the plan.
The city also has received notice that Toll Brothers is seeking to build a six-story building along Route 9, at 528 Boylston St. that would include 244 units, according to Fuller. Sixty-one of the units would be reserved for households earning 80 percent of the area median income.
Two local developments proposed under Chapter 40B are under construction, after each were approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals in July 2020.
In Nonantum, Criterion Development is building a 204-unit project at 2-4 Los Angeles St., formerly 15 Riverdale Ave., near the Charles River. At the development, 51 units will be reserved as affordable housing, according to Fuller.
Mark Development is working on a West Newton project that is expected to bring 292 apartments to the former site of The Barn Family Shoe Store, including 73 affordable units, Fuller said.
That development also will include about 8,000 square feet of retail space along Washington Street and a public courtyard, plus improvements to the nearby Cheesecake Brook, Fuller said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.