Martins Introduces Zoning Amendment That Would Create More Affordable Housing Units

Special To The Independent

Ward Two City Councilor Stephanie Martins has introduced an amendment to the zoning ordinances that would promote the creation of affordable housing units in smaller developments and conversions taking place in Everett.

The inclusionary zoning rules currently in place require that 15 percent of the units in developments with 10 or more units be affordable.

Martins’ amendment, which was proposed at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, would lower that number from 10-unit residences to six-unit residences, thus leveraging private development to create more non-government subsidized housing units for low-and-moderate income residents.

Revising zoning ordinances that have become obsolete has been a recurring topic between the Everett City Council and the Planning Board.

In her opening remarks to the Committee, Martins articulated well the intent of her proposal, while also stressing the urgency of the matter.

“This is something that can’t wait so we can create affordable units for our residents – I cannot even imagine how many affordable units we’re going to miss out on [projects] that are going through the Planning Board right now,” Martins told Committee Chair Michael Marchese and Committee members, Councillors Stephanie Smith, Darren Costa, and John Hanlon.

Martins said the only change she is seeking to make is to Section B-1 [of the city’s ordinances], “starting [the minimum for affordable housing units in a development] at six units instead of ten.”

“We’ll start seeing one unit here and there in every neighborhood – it’s something small, but it adds affordable housing,” said Martins. “We have a huge pipeline and it’s something that I would love this committee to consider. This is a small tweak [to the ordinances] that will have a big effect.”

Martins added that she had conversed with officials in Revere and Lynn, and the proposal “has really been effective.”

Councilor Smith spoke against Martins’ proposal to amend the ordinances.

“I applaud my fellow councilor’s efforts, but this is band-aid to a larger problem,” said Smith. “Councilor Costa and I have worked with Attorney [Matthew] Lattanzi, Mr. [Jay] Monty [of the Planning Department] and have engaged with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership on exploring our options for affordable housing and doing a revamp of zoning – this is just a band-aid for that solution. I don’t know if that six [units] is the magic number. I don’t know if ten [units] is the magic number. I don’t think we can just make a decision and say, ‘fingers in the air, that’s the magic number.’ We have more work to do to decide what is that number.”

Smith said her research on the issue determined that the communities of Malden, Revere, and Brockton took between eight months and 16 months to change similar ordinances. “We can’t do it overnight. I agree that we need to change it, but I’m not here to piecemeal together ordinances. We need more analysis.”

Martins responded directly to Smith’s comments.

“We need to start from somewhere,” countered Martins. “So, I’m starting with the number first, and then we go through the scale, and the income, and then we adjust the number. I’m just saying that we start from six [units], because while we wait now, we’re missing out on multiple units that are being approved and could have been included as an affordable unit.”

Martins also expressed concern that developers were building below the 10-unit minimum to bypass Everett’s affordable housing requirement.

Councilor Costa wanted to know whether individuals who own a six-family residence and might want to renovate one of the apartments “are obligated to convert one [apartment] to affordable housing.”

Martins responded that one of the renovated units would have to be dedicated to being an affordable unit.

In concluding her presentation, Martins reinforced the notion that projects with six or more units are investment properties and small buildings and no longer just an ordinary multi-family home situation.

“Slowing down the conversions and perhaps discouraging people from doing it, might be a good side effect, so we have less of what’s happening in the city right now. I don’t see that as a bad thing,” said Martins.

Martins’ amendment remains in the Legislative Affairs Committee and requires at least three favorable votes to move out of committee where it will subsequently be referred to the Planning Board for consideration before it returns before the City Council for a final vote.

Martins said she hopes residents will email members of the Legislative Affairs Committee and request that they vote for a favorable recommendation of her proposal.

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