Planning Board, Community Wary of Changing Housing Ordinance

A measure to promote larger residential developments in the City got a lukewarm greeting from some Planning Board members and some members of the community Monday night as it would alter the year-old Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that requires 20 percent affordable units in such developments.

Planner Michael Vivaldi, ISD Director Jim Soper and Planner Tony Sousa said they realized there was a problem because large developers weren’t proposing any projects – and they found it was because the numbers may not be working for the 20 percent affordable requirement in large developments.

The City Council enacted Inclusionary Zoning one year ago for any development of six units and above. However, for anything more than 50 units, the Council went out on a limb and required 20 percent affordable units across the board.

When combined with high tax rates, contaminated land and the new affordable requirement, Soper said the numbers were hard to crunch.

“Most of the areas around here have a high level of contamination, which drives up cost,” he said, noting that they sat down with several developers, developer attorneys and administrators in crafting the change. “We have a high tax rate, high inclusionary zoning and contaminated soil. It makes it so that the developers can’t make it work or they have to consolidate properties.”

Vivaldi said in the first year, the new ordinance has applied to two projects and created five units.

They said they believe that by changing the ordinance for large developments, more would be built – allowing at least some affordable housing to come out of the new rules.

The plan would be to require 10 percent affordable units for the first 200 units of a development. However, everything above 200 would be 5 percent. The current plan calls for 20 percent across the board for anything 50 units or above.

That idea, however, was met with pushback.

Kathleen O’Brien said there are other ways to accomplish affordability, and stressed that people in Everett are being displaced now – with many expecting that they will have to leave the city in the next five years.

“The vast majority of our community is extremely housing cost burdened,” she said. “Some people are paying as much as 50 percent of their income on housing right now…I don’t think we should consider this at all. I understand some people think you should make money on housing, but people have to live somewhere. People who have lived in Everett all their lives don’t want to leave…There are other creative ways to do this.”

That sentiment came from others as well.

Artist Karen Alzair, of Pearl Street, said she recently did a pop-up art show in a very prominent new building in Boston. She said it was a lovely building, but felt like a preview of where Everett might be heading – a place that was walled off from the community and not remotely affordable for those here now.

“It gave me a sense of what we might expect here,” she said. “I had to buzz in and it had great amenities and looked great but was walled off from the community. The apartments cost a lot. I’m not sure these kinds of new developments are going to alleviate our housing problem. I think it going to do more to displace people who are here and want to stay but can’t. It will only bring in more people who can pay more.”

That was peppered by comments from the Board, who seemed to be leaning towards the opinions of the activists and neighbors.

“We give everything away to these developers and the people born and raised here can’t keep their apartments and places to live,” said Tony Medeiros. “We have to think of that down the line.”

Member Leo Pizzano Jr. said they will fight to keep more affordability, but market forces are going to be powerful.

“This used to be old Everett at one time,” he said. “The City was cheap; rent was cheap. But we’ve now been discovered. The residents are the ones taking a beating. It’s no one’s fault. It’s a market economy. We’ll try like heck to get something going, but it’s going to be hard to do.”

The matter was continued unanimously to the June 25 meeting.

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