Affordable housing funds could get boost from developers under Walsh plan
Boston could soon require developers of office space and hotels to contribute more money to affordable housing funds, if Mayor Martin J. Walsh gets his way. It’s one item on a lengthy wish list he plans to file with state lawmakers this month.
The Walsh administration says it will ask the Legislature for more flexibility on so-called linkage rules, which require commercial developers to help fund affordable housing and job training, with an eye toward increasing those requirements to help create more low-cost apartments.
“We’ve been hearing from housing advocates loud and clear that linkage needs to be increased,” said Joyce Linehan, Walsh’s chief of policy.
The fees — currently $9.03 per square foot for housing and $1.78 for job training — generated more than $31 million from 2014 through 2018 and were increased just last year, for the first time since 2013. Given the often-lengthy legislative process, any further increase is likely to be at least a year away, and city officials don’t have a target amount in mind, they said.
Under current state law, Boston can increase the fees once every three years, at a rate tied to inflation. Walsh’s proposal would do away with those limits, making it easier for the city to adapt to the market, said John Barros, his chief of economic development.
“We need the flexibility to work with the ebbs and flows of the economy,” Barros said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to achieve with this legislation.”
In Massachusetts, state laws hinder local governments’ ability to act in a variety of arenas. Home-rule petitions — in which a town meeting or city council asks state approval to change a law — are routine and often pass easily on minor matters. But the process can be complex when it comes to controversial or complex issues. Last session, Walsh filed a slate of proposed renter protections, known as the Jim Brooks Act, that fizzled in the Legislature.
In the session now getting underway, he plans to file 15 bills on housing, job training, and economic development alone. They’re a mix of home-rule petitions and proposed statewide legislation.
Other bills coming out of City Hall will include measures to add more than 150 liquor licenses across the city, increasing state funding for the Community Preservation Act, making Boston’s tuition-free community college program available statewide, and protecting older renters in the city from eviction. Walsh also plans to roll out bills covering education, transportation, and health and safety.
Some of the measures have been proposed before and have gone nowhere. Linehan said the administration hopes to build strong coalitions this time — often including other cities and towns — to push them through.