City Changes Percentage of Required Affordable Housing for New Construction

To What End?

By Josh Resnek

The city council went from nothing to nowhere debating for about two hours a percentage change that requires developers to allow a certain percentage of new units constructed in the city to be offered at lower rentals in order to enlarge the supply of affordable apartments in the city.

The bottom line in this two-hour debate that led to one percentage being lowered to 15% instead of the 20% where it stood was this: very few, if any new construction units have been built as affordable housing.

Two major projects, the Batchyard, with more than 500 units and the 360 unit megacomplex on the Revere Beach Parkway now being built, contribute not one new unit of affordable housing for the city.

This statistic was revealed by Councilor Fred Capone, who indicated he believed the city was being hurt by not living  up to the word of its desire to make available more affordable housing units for residents here.

He made great sense but the complex nature of percentages to be allocated for affordable housing in inclusionary neighborhoods, et cetera, made the issue something as difficult to understand as hieroglyphics.

The irony of all this endless debate about the nuances of city efforts to create affordable housing (which is not being created), is that this entire debate was spurned on by two city officials who appeared before the council Monday night to have the 20% standing figure of affordable housing required reduced because developers were apparently leaving Everett for other cities.

“Developers are leaving Everett because they can’t afford to build here and to provide affordable housing units as part and parcel of their new housing projects given our standing requirement number of 20%,” said Tony Sousa, the city’s planning and development head.

Sousa claimed that the Batchyard developer said he would not consider Everett for further development because the city was too expensive to develop in with a 20% affordable housing requirement.

Capone questioned the honesty of Sousa’s statement, and rightfully so.

The Batchyard has not one affordable housing unit.

The mayor charged into this debate after he grew upset watching the hearing on television inside his city hall office, he told his colleagues after arriving in his familiar blue suit in the packed city council chamber.

The mayor insisted the debate was misplaced about affordable housing.

“The site of the Batchyard was one of the worst eyesores in this city for 30 years,” he said. “It was an empty, dirty building. We worked tirelessly to get that site redeveloped,” he added.

“On the Parkway,” he said, “that project was formerly Woodwaste’s smelly mess in what is today becoming 14,000 square feet of great housing.”

The mayor said these two projects that reclaimed two enormous pieces of dilapidated and empty spaces with no impact on the schools was far more important than holding the developers to the affordable housing percentage.

“I don’t appreciate some of the comments being made,” he added.

Councilor Wayne Matewsky said he believed the city should look at more efficacious ways of developing smaller units for the elderly seeking to remain in the city.

Councilor Mike Marchese expressed dismay and wonder that the Batchyard developer was opting for Revere over Everett.

Sousa pointed out that nearly every developable piece of land in Everett is polluted in one way or another.

“This has been my experience for a decade,” he said.

The costs to remediate polluted land and to provide for affordable housing on top of the remediation fees is just too much to ask of developers who need to cut a profit.

Capone didn’t seem to care much about a property owner’s need to generate profits.

“We need affordable housing,” he said.

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