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Parking no longer required for affordable units

New law abolishes minimums for projects more than 60% affordable

Anna Lamb

Mayor Michelle Wu signed an amendment to the Boston Zoning Code last week that eliminates minimum off-street parking requirements for affordable housing developments.

The amendment, which comes after years of advocacy from affordable housing advocates, will remove parking minimums for residential developments where at least 60% of the units are income-restricted for households at 100% Area Median Income (AMI) or below. The move is an attempt to make affordable housing cheaper and easier to build, as developers will no longer need to clear a threshold that in many instances has not been feasible in Boston’s limited landscape.

“This action will help take down barriers to the creation of new affordable housing across the city,” Wu said. “We need every tool in our toolbox to address our city’s housing crisis. Eliminating parking minimums removes an outdated standard from our zoning code and will spur new housing to make it easier for Bostonians to live and stay in our city.”

Approved unanimously by the City Council in October and then by the Boston Zoning Commission and Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) Board last month, the zoning change will allow each individual project to determine the amount of off-street parking necessary based on the needs of the project’s residents, rather than the existing formula, which had combined neighborhood-specific considerations with proximity to an MBTA station.

“Eliminating parking minimums for affordable housing developments in Boston is a major step towards expediting much needed transit-oriented housing and moving forward on our climate and sustainability goals,” said BPDA Director Brian Golden. “I thank the BPDA staff and our partners in City Council who have helped us move this important zoning amendment forward.”

Abundant Housing Massachusetts Executive Director Jesse Kanson-Benanav echoed Wu’s assessment of Boston’s affordable housing market, calling the lack of available and high-quality units a crisis.

“We don’t have enough homes for everyone who lives here or wants to live here at all income levels, and a particular crisis at the lowest income levels. And so we need to build a lot more affordable homes for people all around the city,” he said. “And parking has been one of the major barriers to that getting done.”

The issue was put in front of the City Council by Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley and District 8 Councilor Kenzie Bok after constituent complaints of NIMBY-ism that was preventing housing from being built. Such was the case at the Pine Street Inn project in Jamaica Plain, where a lawsuit against a proposed parking variance delayed the development of a project to house homeless Bostonians for over a year. Proposed for 3371 Washington Street, the project faced lawsuits from a local brewery and its landlord, who feared street parking in front of the building would be taken up by new residents.

Those lawsuits have continued to be protested by advocacy groups City Life/Vida Urbana and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC) even through this month. In light of the new amendment, MSAC Vice President Kathy Paul, in a statement to the Banner, said that “removing parking minimums represents a critical step in ensuring Boston builds more affordable housing,” and “We applaud the leadership of Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley and Councilor Kenzie Bok, and we thank Mayor Wu for putting us on a faster track to a more livable Boston.”

Bok, who attended a December protest in support of the Pine Street Inn project, gave her gratitude right back, saying “I’m so proud to have co-sponsored this with Councilor Matt O’Malley, and I’m grateful to folks like Mass Senior Action and others that shared and organized public testimony, as well as the BPDA, DND, and BTD for their partnership and support of this amendment.”

O’Malley also commented on the future he hopes the amendment will bring about.

“The need to build affordable housing in Boston has never been more vital, with half of Boston’s renters being rent-burdened,” he said. “Eliminating parking minimums is an impactful and common-sense policy solution that can provide transformative relief for affordable housing builders.”

affordable housing, parking minimums