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City Council urges Wu to go big on affordable housing requirements

The mayor’s office is mulling changes to how much affordable housing it will mandate in new construction.

Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara at an August news conference with Mayor Michelle Wu and other City officials and Council members.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

As the Wu administration prepares to unveil long-awaited changes to Boston’s affordable housing requirements in new development, members of the City Council this week urged the mayor to go big, and do it fast.

Currently, the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy requires 13 percent of units built in new housing projects to be set aside for lower- and middle-income residents. When she ran for mayor, Michelle Wu campaigned on increasing that rate to 20 percent, and shortly after taking office last December announced plans to study the impacts of such an increase, as well as increases in fees that commercial developers pay toward affordable housing and workforce development. The formal study launched in April.

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But there have been few details or updates since, and that prompted Councilor Kendra Lara to file a resolution last week calling for “immediate action to improve the Inclusionary Development Policy to remedy Boston’s affordable housing crisis,” which was cosponsored by Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune and Liz Breadon. Lara, who herself lives in an IDP unit, said waiting much longer to update the program does not meet the city’s housing crisis “with the urgency it requires.”

“Many people in Boston are just like me, and they’re just one check away from becoming unhoused, and many more are already paying over 30 percent of their income in rent,” Lara said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. “We are now four years overdue for an update, and every month that goes by, more luxury developments are being approved. We’re losing the chance to get long-term affordable units we need to stabilize our neighborhoods.”

The resolution, which the City Council approved with no debate, has no legal authority; Lara framed it as a “call to action.” It urges Wu to increase the IDP rate from 13 percent of units to 20 percent, make it apply to buildings with five or more units, rather than the current nine, and require more buildings be affordable to lower-income residents. The suggestions were crafted using feedback from housing advocates, constituents, and the administration, Lara said, and also followed two City Council hearings on affordable housing and zoning.

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“This is really just a call to action. It’s not that the administration has no plan on doing this,” Lara said in an interview. “The ball just keeps getting kicked down the road.”

Boston last changed these affordability requirements seven years ago, in December 2015. Former mayor Martin J. Walsh boosted linkage requirements — the fees developers of commercial projects pay into affordable housing and workforce development programs — by 42 percent, from $10.81 per square foot to $15.39, shortly before leaving office to join the Biden administration, but did not change the IDP requirements.

Since Wu took office, some Boston developers have been targeting 20 percent affordability in their projects even without an official policy change. The residential building in Related Beal’s Channelside development, as one example, will include 20 percent IDP units; Davis Cos.’ proposed overhaul of the Boston Skating Club site in Allston includes an all-affordable residential building, developed in partnership by the Allston Brighton Community Development Corp. and The Community Builders, that would take the project’s overall affordability rate to 20 percent.

In a statement, a city spokesperson expressed gratitude to the City Council for its “partnership in advancing housing affordability as the foundation for our growth as a family-friendly city,” and mentioned the studies examining the impacts of IDP and linkage fees paid by commercial developers toward affordable housing and workforce development.

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“We look forward to sharing these findings once the study is complete and taking action in the near future,” a city spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.


Catherine Carlock can be reached at catherine.carlock@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bycathcarlock.