I applaud Mayor Michelle Wu for making Boston’s housing affordability crisis an early focus of her administration. Providing affordable homes for everyone is a shared commitment in Boston, one that demands local policies that maximize the number of new affordable homes we build, at all price points, including for those families in the most need. 

On Tuesday the Mayor announced steps her administration will take, including studying an increase in the Inclusionary Development Program (IDP). In particular, Mayor Wu proposed raising the IDP percentage to “meet or exceed 20 percent” of all new units from the current 13 percent.  

To understand the effectiveness of higher inclusionary zoning (IZ) requirements, Boston can look to Cambridge and Somerville which have adopted 20 percent IZ. A 20 percent requirement has had minimal impact in substantially increasing affordable housing in those cities. Most new inclusionary homes have been built in large brownfield redevelopments (the Alewife Quad) or large master planned developments (Assembly Row). Few existing neighborhoods in either city have seen inclusionary affordable homes built since the 20 percent requirement went into effect. 

In Cambridge, broader zoning reforms have recently been more effective in maximizing the number of affordable homes to be built. Since 2017, approximately 100 homes have been built under Cambridge’s 20 percent IZ program. Meanwhile, since Cambridge adopted an affordable housing overlay in 2020 to prioritize the construction of more affordable homes citywide, they have added 350 new affordable homes now in various stages of development.  

It is absolutely time for Boston to re-examine its housing programs to make sure they meet our city’s needs. I was proud to stand beside Mayor Wu last week as she signed a zoning change into law eliminating costly parking mandates for affordable housing across the city. Boston’s will now be able to build more affordable homes instead of parking without being subject to NIMBY lawsuits. 

In addition to IDP and other reforms the mayor proposed, I encourage her to continue zoning reform for affordability and include items like a Boston affordable overlay and greater opportunities for by-right development of multifamily housing as critical components of a multi-pronged strategy to solve our housing affordability crisis. 

— Jesse Kanson-Benanav, executive director, Abundant Housing Massachusetts

Affordable Overlay an Effective Tool for Boston

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 1 min