Town Council Increases Requirement for Affordable Housing in New Projects

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Watertown City Hall

Watertown Town Hall

Developers will be required to provide more affordable housing in most residential projects built in Watertown after the Town Council’s vote on Tuesday night.

The Council approved changes to the Town’s Inclusionary Zoning Requirements, but there were questions about who would qualify to live in the affordable units.

Previously the requirement was 12.5 percent of the units for most areas of town, but that amount was increased for projects of 20 units or more. The requirement for projects with 6-19 unit projects will remain at 12.5 percent.

Also, the income requirements change for the projects that would have to provide 15 percent affordable units. For projects of 20 or more units, 10 percent of units in a rental project (or 2/3 of the affordable units) will be for people who meet the 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) standard, and 5 percent of the units are for those meeting the 65 percent of the AMI threshold, which would be $63,800 for a family of four, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The 15 percent requirement already applied to the Regional Mixed Use District (RMUD), which includes a large section of the east end of Arsenal Street where the two malls are located.

Members of the Watertown Housing Partnership, one of the groups pushing for higher affordable housing requirements, said the change will help people stay in town.

“Our concern is the person who grows up in Watertown, goes to the high school, maybe becomes a contractor journeyman,” said Fred Reynolds, chairman of the Housing Partnership. “There aren’t (affordable) houses available for these people.”

Developer Bill McQuillan said he is not sure who would qualify to live in the affordable units. He is principal of Boylston Properties, the development firm that owns the Arsenal Mall, the new Residence Inn by Marriott and the former Verizon site. Town employees making the average salary for their department would not qualify in most cases, he said.

“If teachers, the Police Department and Fire Department can not take advantage of these (affordable units), who will use them?” McQuillan said.

Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that the average salaries for teachers, police and firefighters are neither the highest or lowest in those departments, and he expects some on the lower end would qualify.

Town resident Jennifer Van Kampen is also executive director of Metro West Collaborative Development, a group working to create more affordable housing in the area. She said she is sure there are people working in town who would qualify.

“These people are working at Starbucks, CVS, working in restaurants and hotels,” Van Kampen said.

Councilor Tony Palomba said he supports the increased requirement because he has heard an increasing need for affordable housing in town.

“The (town’s) Social Services Coordinator’s lead issue when she gets calls is for housing,” Palomba said. “With the rents people get now, it is almost impossible for many people to live in Watertown.”

Town Council President said he was interested in getting more details about the income thresholds with the 65 percent and 80 percent of AMI, and how many town employees would qualify.

The Council voted 8-0 to adopt the changes, and Sideris voted “present” because he wanted more information.

There were a few more alterations to the town’s rules included in the changes in the adopted proposal.

If a developer pays cash in lieu of providing affordable units, the price will be based on the cost of actually building the affordable units as determined by the State Department of Housing and Community Development. The entire cash payment must be received by the town before a Certificate of Occupancy will be granted. Previously they would have to pay half the amount before getting the certificate.

In a small area south of the Charles River, called the Revitalization Overlay Zone, developers will be able to increase the density of projects if they meet the affordable housing requirement. The zone includes the MBTA’s Watertown Yard and part of the Colonial Buick GMC dealership on the east side of Galen Street. On the west side of Galen, the zone the area where the Watertown Square Apartments, as well as the New Ginza, Farina’s and the building where Athens Pizza is located.

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