The Planning Board voted to support a zoning change that would require developers building medium and large housing projects in Watertown to include more affordable housing.
Last Thursday, the Planning Board discussed the zoning amendment and voted unanimously to recommend that the Town Council adopt the changes.
The proposal was brought to the Town Council by the Watertown Housing Partnership. It was considered first by the Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee and then by the full Council, before being sent to the Planning Board to sign off on it, said Andrea Adams, senior planner in the Watertown Community Development and Planning Department.
The town has a requirement that projects of 6 more units have 12.5 percent of units be rented or sold at an affordable rate. When the Town Council approved the Regional Mixed Use District (RMUD) for the section of east Arsenal Street earlier this year, the affordable housing requirement was increased to 15 percent for that area, Adams said.
The amendment would apply the 15 percent requirement to all areas of town, with some other alterations.
First, the 15 percent would apply only to projects with 20 or more units. The requirement for projects with 6-19 unit projects remain at 12.5 percent.
Also, the income requirements change for the projects that would have to provide 15 percent affordable units. Currently, to qualify to rent or buy an affordable unit, the renters or purchasers of the unit must be within 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which in Fiscal Year 2016 for the Boston area is $78,500 for a family of four, $70,650 for a family of three, $62,800 for a family of two and $54,950 for one person, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
In the new rules, 10 percent of units in a rental project (or 2/3 of the affordable units) will be for the 80 percent AMI standards, but 5 percent (or 1/3 of the affordable ones) of the units would be for those meeting the 65 percent of the AMI threshold, which would be $63,800 for a family of four, the Boston Redevelopment Authority said.
Fred Reynolds, chairman of the Watertown Housing Partnership, applauded the changes, particularly making some affordable at the 65 percent of AMI rate, because some people could not qualify at 80 percent.
“It is simply to make housing affordable and available,” Reynolds said. “If someone graduates from Watertown High School and works in a trade and works up to be a journeyman, they should be able to live in Watertown, not have to move way west or north and commute long distances.”
For condominium projects all the affordable units would be sold to people meeting the 80 percent AMI requirement.
Town Councilor Tony Palomba supported the changes, saying they will help the town reach its goal having 10 percent of its housing available at affordable rates. If it does not reach that goal (which Watertown currently does not) developers could come in an build a Chapter 40B project, which does not have to follow local zoning rules and would have 25 percent of its units rented or sold at affordable rates.
A couple other changes would apply to projects where developers pay cash to an affordable housing fund instead of building affordable units, Adams said.
“The new methodology the State Department of Housing and Community Development uses to find the amount paid in lieu of construction uses the cost of actually replicating those units,” Adams said “And payment should be received before first certificate of occupancy is issued for a project.”
Before the change, the price would be based on sales of comparable units at prices in the area, and take the middle one.
The zoning amendment now moves on to the Town Council for final approval.