The Town Council voted to approve steps to increase the number of affordable housing units when new developments are built in Watertown.
Tuesday night, the council voted 8-1 to increase the requirement of affordable units in complexes from 10 percent to 12.5 percent. The move was made to help Watertown meet the state requirement of having 10 percent of the total housing units in town available at an affordable rate.
If a community does not meet the 10 percent requirement under Chapter 40B (sometimes called the anti-snob law), developers could come into town to build projects with 25 percent of the units sold or rented as affordable, and they would not have to comply with the town’s zoning regulations, said Councilor Vincent Piccirilli.
To qualify for affordable housing, applicants must make below 80 percent of the Area Median Income. For one person that is $47,450, two people $54,200, and a family of four it is $67,750. The rental rates for an affordable two bedroom apartment is $1,289 a month and the price for a two bedroom condo is $175,000.
Some nearby towns have even higher requirements. Arlington, Brookline, Newton and Cambridge require 15 percent of the units to be affordable. Belmont has a sliding scale – 10 percent for 0-12 units, 12.5 percent for 13-40 units and 15 percent for 41 and above.
The town has between 6.5 and 7 percent right now, Director of Community Development and Planning Steve Magoon. While more affordable units were built under the old requirement, Magoon said the town made little progress toward the overall goal.
“The problem was as projects occur, we would not get closer to 10 percent (under the old requirement),” Magoon said.
Another change removed the exemption for projects with 15 or fewer housing units if it included a commercial/retail element, too.
The lone vote against the proposal came from Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett.
“I support affordable housing, but I feel this is completely inequitable,” Corbett said. “There is already a requirement for 10 percent which benefits the whole community, but it is paid for by a small segment of the town.”
As an alternative, Corbett said he would rather give incentives similar to other towns to encourage developers to add more affordable units. In Cambridge developers can build projects with more density if they include more affordable units and the parking requirement is loosened in Arlington as an incentive for affordable housing, Corbett said.
The changes received a lot of support from both councilors and attendees of the meeting.
David Leon, who is on the board of the Watertown Housing Partnership, said most of the housing going up in town are in luxury complexes and it is hard for some to afford to live in town.
“Many people who have grown up here, cannot afford to rent or live here,” Leon said.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said this was a good argument for adding affordable housing.
“I hear from friends all the time that they cannot afford to live in town,” Dushku said. “I see neighbors with kids growing up here who know they can’t afford to live here.”
Will Twombly, a resident who is co-president of the Marshall Home Fund and a board member of the Helen Robinson Wright Foundation, said the need for affordable housing here, even if people don’t see it. Both organizations get many requests for rental assistance.
Watertown is a hot place for development right now and the 2.5 percent increase will not likely change that, said Jennifer Van Campen, executive director of MetroWest Collaborative Development.
“It is not your job to worry about developers profits or landlords profits, it is you job to get to 10 percent (affordable units),” Van Campen said.