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City on track for housing stock goal

Early hints of rent stabilization; bidders sought for affordable projects

Jule Pattison-Gordon

Boston is making progress toward housing goals for its surging population, according to numbers released last week by the administration of Mayor Martin Walsh. By latest count, the city has created nearly 10,500 of the targeted 53,000 new units called for in the city’s Boston 2030 housing plan. A further 28,694 units are in the planning, construction or review stages.

Most of the units created to date under Walsh’s housing plan are in the downtown neighborhoods. But in the next wave of projects, many developers eye outer neighborhoods.

City officials hope that bringing more units online will slacken demand and that people with means will move into new units, thus freeing up their current housing.

Some evidence of this, they say, is reflected in the Fenway, which received about 687 new units. This represented a 6 percent growth rate, matched by a 0.4 percent decline in rents for older units in the area, according to city officials. But thus far such signs of rent stabilization have been noted only in a select number of neighborhoods, with data not available on all.

The Department of Neighborhood Development did not have information on rents in Roxbury, Dorchester or Mattapan, but growth in the number of housing units there has been below the citywide average. These areas saw growth of 3 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, compared to the city’s 6.6 percent average, and the soaring 26 percent experienced in South Boston.

Between 2011 and 2016, Roxbury gained approximately 449 completed units, Dorchester got 327 and Mattapan received 201, according to the most recent numbers from the DND.

New offerings

Most new units to date were listed for market rate rents. Nearly 75 percent of the created units are rental. Out of all new housing, rental and homeownership together, 80 percent is market rate.

Of the approximately 2,100 affordable units, 60 percent are designated for families earning less than 60 percent of Area Median Income ($53,900 for a family of three) and the rest for families making $60,000 to $125,000.

Officials were unable to provide information on how the types of units were distributed across neighborhoods.

Next plans

Developers show increasing interest in building condos in years to come, city officials note. Only 43 percent of permits pulled this year were for rental units, down from 83 percent in 2013.

In what appears to be an effort to offset the imbalance between affordability and market rate, the Walsh administration recently released two requests for proposals for bidders to create affordable developments, including ones that target vulnerable populations. Each RFP provides $7 million in funding to help developers achieve the projects.

In general, when developers create large projects, they are required to either designate a number of onsite units as affordable, or pay into the city’s Inclusionary Development Fund, used to support affordability. Many who build in pricey neighborhoods prefer to take the latter option, which allows them to maximize profit from market rate units.

These RFPs seem designed to push against that tide. One element sought under the RFPs are bidders who will target areas where the onsite construction option is rarely taken, and build affordable units there.

The RFPs highlight a desire for bidders to provide for mixed incomes and needs, including people who are homeless, people with disabilities and/or special needs, elders, veterans, artists and youth aging out of foster care. Also sought: bidders who will take housing that does not currently have pricing restrictions and make it long-term affordable for a mixed range of incomes.

Other RFP preferences include use of city-owned land, quick and efficient construction and large developments of over 50 units with more than half of them deed-restricted affordable.

The $14 million behind the RFPs come from the Neighborhood Housing Trust, the DND’s Inclusionary Development Fund, the city operating funds and the federal government via HOME and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) funding.