It took two hours and three votes, but the City Council unanimously approved a change to the inclusionary zoning ordinance, cutting the percentage of affordable housing units required in residential development projects.
It was an ordinance that had not even been in effect for one year, but one that City officials said was already discouraging developers from bringing large building projects to Everett.
The current proposal had cleared the Planning Board some months ago after much discussion and several changes, with that Board settling on 10 percent across the board affordable requirement for all development.
Under the original ordinance, there was a sliding scale of affordable units required depending upon the size of the residential development. Developments from six to 13 units required 10 percent of the units be affordable, from 13 to 49 units required 15 percent affordable units, and projects of 50 units or more upped the requirement to 20 percent.
The deal finally brokered by the Council calls for any development of more than 10 units to provide 15 percent of those units at affordable rates. However, developers of contaminated sites in the city (those with state Activity and Use Limitations – AULs) only need to provide 5 percent of those units at affordable rates.
Administration officials argued that the inclusionary zoning ordinance put in effect about a year ago has stifled development in the city.
“It’s detrimental to the ability of the developer to make a profit, and the developer has to make a profit,” said James Soper, the city’s inspectional services director. “It’s pushing developers out of our community and into other communities.”
In the year since the affordable housing requirements have been on the books, Soper said there have been no affordable units added to the City’s stock.
“This is pushing people to go to Revere, Malden, and Medford,” said Ward 5 Councilor Rose DiFlorio. “It’s stopped growth. It took 30 years to grow Everett, and now we are pushing developers out.”
Soper noted a developer looking to build on the Harley Davidson site was hesitant to move forward with the restrictive affordable housing requirements.
“His next development is in Revere,” he said.
DiFlorio backed the Planning Board’s recommendation to cut the affordable housing requirement to 10 percent across the board, and also added an amendment that development on AUL sites only require that 5 percent of the units be marked affordable.
That measure failed to get the 8 of 11 council votes needed to make a change to the City’s zoning ordinance.
Leading the opposition to the Planning Board recommendation was Ward 1 Councilor Fred Capone.
Capone argued that cutting the affordable housing percentage leaves the city vulnerable to Chapter 40B affordable housing developments. Under state law, developers can bypass many local zoning bylaws and restrictions if they build a development that has at least 25 percent affordable units in communities that do not have 10 percent of their housing stock earmarked as affordable.
“The reality is that all this growth is happening and all this development is coming in and we are not creating affordable housing,” said Capone. “Under the ordinance, we are not gaining ground and we are holding the City exposed to 40B because we are not stepping up our efforts.”
Tony Sousa, the city’s planning and development director, said that with the 20-percent threshold, there have been no affordable units added in the city. Lowering the threshold, he said, would encourage development and incrementally add affordable units.
Speaking before the Council, Mayor Carlo DeMaria took issue with the argument that the City isn’t doing enough to bring in affordable housing.
“We are working our hardest to get affordable housing to the city of Everett,” said the mayor.
DeMaria said he understands people are being forced out of the community because of rent and housing prices.
“There’s a great demand and little supply,” DeMaria said. “We need to create more housing; that’s how you get rents to go down.”
After the amended change to the ordinance proposed by DiFlorio failed, Capone presented his own amended change putting the affordable housing percentage at 15 percent for all developments over 10 units and giving the Planning Board discretion to lower the percentage to 10 percent on contaminated properties. DiFlorio opposed Capone’s amendment, stating she wanted to see the guaranteed 5 percent rate for contaminated sites, and Capone’s amendment failed by one vote.
The Council unanimously approved the amended change that included Capone’s 15 percent affordable housing percentage and DiFlorio’s request that the percentage for contaminated sites be a guaranteed 5 percent.