Helping Residents : Planning Board Supports Changes To Affordable Housing Regulations

The Planning Board is supporting an amendment to the City’s inclusionary housing and zoning ordinance that will make it easier for low-income residents to rent affordable housing units.

The proposed change in the ordinance will also increase the amount of money developers will need to pay the City if they attempt to opt-out of building affordable units in projects of 10 or more units.

The amendment first came before the Planning Board in April, and at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board unanimously supported recommending the changes in the ordinance.

The inclusionary housing ordinance was first introduced by At-Large City Councillor Leo Robinson in 2016, according to Lad Dell, the city planner and land use administrator.

“The reason was that in the Greater Boston area, the cost of housing has gone up astronomically, and Chelsea has not been isolated from that. There was a concern that long-time Chelsea residents would be pushed out.”

But the original ordinance set the eligibility guidelines at 80 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) to qualify for affordable units.

Since the AMI is based on income for the Greater Boston area, and not just Chelsea, that figure stood at about $89,000 for a family of four. Dell noted that the figure is well above the average Chelsea income of $55,000 for a family of four.

Under the new amendment, the affordable rental units will now be evenly split between 80, 50, and 30 percent AMI. Condominium projects will remain at the 80 percent AMI level.

Developers who build projects of 10 or more units must set aside at least 15 percent of those units as affordable.

“If a developer did not want to provide the 15 percent of affordable units, they had the option of a $200,000 payment in lieu per unit,” said Dell. “That was raised to $400,000 in April.”

Planning Board member Eric Asquith asked what the rationale was for raising the payment in lieu to $400,000.

“The $400,000 price tag kind of startles a lot of people, but that’s what it costs to build an affordable unit in Chelsea,” said Alex Train, assistant director of planning.

However, Train said developers still need City approval to substitute the payments for the creation of affordable units.

Planning Board member Sara Arman questioned why the rate was set at 15 percent and not higher.

“That’s on par with other communities,” said Train. “We want to have a balance between affordable housing and encouraging development.”

Several board members noted that there is very little developable land in Chelsea, with member Mimi Rancatore asking if the number triggering affordable units should be lowered from 10 to eight.

Train said that most of the development in Chelsea is reuse or redevelopment of existing land.

“It’s about that balance,” he said. “One thing that has proven to lower prices is building more houses, and if we set (the affordable housing number) below 10, it may discourage more building.”

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