The new director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority has since 2006 owned a single-family home in Newton, where he and his wife are raising four children. But Brian P. Golden lists his primary residence as a rent-free apartment — owned by his mother and a family trust — 3 miles away in the Boston neighborhood of Allston.
Golden is one in a long line of top officials who have kept their families in the suburbs while establishing a pied-à-terre in the city to comply with a requirement that municipal employees live in Boston.
This week, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s top aide, Joseph Rull, joined the apartment club. Seated in the mayor’s office Tuesday, Rull said he planned to make that night his first in his new Dorchester apartment, some 20 miles from his wife and children in Norwell.
“I commend his willingness and commitment to the city,” Walsh said of Rull, his chief of operations and administration.
In the four decades since the residency rule dawned, it has bedeviled and divided city workers, with some required to abide by it while other classes of employees are exempt. This week, two city councilors launched an initiative to overhaul the residency ordinance, an effort supported by Walsh.
The proposal, which must pass the City Council, would create a commission appointed by the mayor to study the hodgepodge of laws and labor contracts governing residency requirements and recommend changes by year’s end.
“It’s so convoluted right now,” City Council president Bill Linehan said.
Councilor at Large Michael Flaherty, who cosponsored the proposal, described himself as a strong supporter of a residency requirement but lamented the current disarray.
“My hope,” Flaherty said, “is to improve equity and fairness among all city employees and their supervisors.”
Other top Walsh administration officials facing looming deadlines to establish Boston residency include the city’s chief financial officer, David Sweeney, and Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn.
Walsh’s corporation counsel and confidant, Eugene L. O’Flaherty, recently bought a condominium in Charlestown, property records show. According to the Walsh administration, O’Flaherty did not sell his longtime home in Chelsea but has made the new condo his primary residence.
Other top officials living in the suburbs include Dr. Huy Nguyen, interim executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, and Michael Dennehy, a Walsh favorite just reappointed as interim commissioner of public works.
On Tuesday, Walsh suggested the residency requirement did not apply to interim officials, a legal interpretation not shared by John McGonagle, who has served as chairman of the Boston Residency Compliance Commission since its inception two decades ago.
Walsh took particular note of Dennehy, whom he described as the city’s best public works director in 20 years.
“I’m not going to sacrifice his work ethic or his workability,” Walsh said, adding, “I don’t know what the rules are. That goes back to the point of the commission. I don’t think the head of the residency commission has a full understanding of how this works either.”
The policy dates to the mid-1970s and was based on a simple premise: All city employees should live in Boston. But a state law exempted teachers, and the policy was otherwise largely ignored until the mid-1990s. Then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino bolstered the city law, creating the compliance commission.
Over time, the residency requirement became a bargaining chip in labor negotiations, with all city unions except one securing the right for employees to move out of Boston after 10 years on the job.
Eileen Boyle, a longtime crusader for the policy, said she hopes the residency law would be strengthened by eliminating union exemptions and making it harder for city officials to establish weekday residencies while continuing to live in the suburbs.
“I have argued for a long time it should be a condition of employment,” said Boyle, who also serves on the compliance commission. “I expect the mayor will — as he promised — maintain a middle class in the city.”
Walsh said the law needed to be overhauled, while also emphasizing “I’m not going to do away with residency.”
He does not want the City Council’s proposed review to change the rules for top officials, the mayor said, because “Cabinet members will be living in the city of Boston under the Walsh administration.”
The residency commission has generally ruled that employees with multiple homes must spend the “preponderance of time” at their Boston address, which usually means at least four nights a week, according to McGonagle, its chairman.
Rull registered to vote Tuesday in Boston and listed an address not far from where Walsh grew up. He said he planned to split time between Boston and Norwell — something he had previously done for four months under Menino.
“I’m not going to pull my children out halfway through the school year,” Rull said. “I’m not going to do that to my kids for my career.”
Walsh lauded him for sacrificing time away from his family, noting that he already works far in excess of 40 hours a week.
According to property and city records, the new redevelopment authority director, Golden, and his wife bought their Newton home in 2006, and he voted from that address until November 2008.
Records show Golden changed his voter registration to Boston the day after he began working in 2009 at the redevelopment authority, a quasi-public agency that has its own residency requirement. Golden lists the Allston apartment as his primary residence, although property tax bills are sent to his mother, who lives in Plymouth, assessing records show.
Golden declined to be interviewed, but released a statement saying he had “made arrangements with his wife and children, who live in Newton, so that he is in compliance with our residency policy.”
Last month, as his appointment was announced, Golden stood near Walsh as a reporter asked where he lived. “Allston,” Golden said, “which has been home almost my entire life.”
Later that day, a Globe reporter asked him about his home in Newton.
“I live in Allston,” Golden said, “and my wife and four kids live in Newton, and we still manage to be a happy family.”
Casey Ross of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.