Councilor Lydia Edwards, Chair of the Committee on Government Operations, will chair a hearing discussing changes to the zoning code that amend Boston’s outdated linkage policy and formula. The docket was referred to the Committee on January 27, 2021, and a hearing was held on March 4, where public comment was taken.
In January 2021, Governor Charlie Baker signed a home rule petition allowing Boston to adjust linkage to be more closely aligned with the current market, and creates additional opportunities for the creation of affordable housing and job training. The legislation specifically allows Boston to develop linkage exaction and threshold adjustments.
Moving quickly to take advantage of this new authority, Councilor Edwards introduced these amendments to define and codify inclusionary development into zoning code and adjust it on an annual basis based on the Combined Index (CPI). In addition, developers of large projects within a Planned Development Area would be required to pay the updated linkage fees or an equivalent amount in public benefits if amending their projects in the future.
“This is the autonomy we fought for in Boston” said Councilor Edwards. “These zoning amendments will ensure that our City has a codified definition of inclusionary development and allow for regular updates tied to inflation. They will close loopholes that cost the City millions in affordable housing and job training money and require developers to meet future rates of the linkage every time they change their projects. I look forward to working with administration officials from the Department of Neighborhood Development, the Boston Planning and Development Agency, and Economic Development during Thursday’s hearing.”
Specific actions of the proposed text amendment include the following: adds a definition of Inclusionary Development mirrored in the original home rule petition; adds an “Interim Applicability of Inclusionary Development Policy” for enforcement during a transition period; codifies the rate of inflation by tying linkage to a Combined Index (CPI), a measure currently in the home rule petition but not in zoning; provides legal safety precautions for enforcement placing the responsibility on the BPDA to update; lastly, requires a linkage update to any PDA amendment “effective in the year of the proposed amendment, or shall determine an equivalent public benefit in exchange for further zoning relief”.
The Boston Linkage Program was created in 1986 to leverage funding for affordable housing and workforce training through payments from large-scale commercial real estate development and is part of Inclusionary Development. Previously, BPDA was only allowed to adjust linkages every three years based on inflation, and the rate prior to February 2021 was $10.81 per square foot, of which $9.03 went to affordable housing and $1.78 went to labor development. Now the rate is $15.39 per square foot, of which $13.00 will be dedicated to affordable housing and $2.39 will be dedicated to workforce training. To qualify for BPDA housing opportunities, renters must fall under the 70% AMI ($66,650 for a household of two) and homeowners must fall under the 100% AMI threshold ($95,200 for a household of two) as of 2020.