See How Much the City Proposes Charging New Developments to Fund Affordable Housing

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Watertown City Hall

The City of Watertown recently received approval from the state to charge linkage fees on new developments to raise money to create affordable housing. A zoning amendment has been proposed that would set the fee to be paid by new developments.

The special legislation approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in December allows Watertown to charge up to $18 per square foot on projects over 30,000 sq. ft. The exact amount must be set by amending the Watertown Zoning Ordinance.

Watertown submitted the Home Rule Petition in June to create the linkage fees to help pay for lower-cost housing — for low- and middle-income residents — because the cost of housing in Watertown has increased, in part, due to the commercial development in the City.

In January, the Council got the first look at the proposed zoning amendment, which calls for Charging $11.12 per sq. ft. The amount would be adjusted for inflation each January based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.

Watertown’s linkage fees were studied by Karl Seidman Consulting Services/ConsultEcon, said City Manager George Proakis, and a range of fees was recommended.

“(The) $11.12 (fee) is the high end of the recommendation from Karl Siedmen’s report,” Proakis said. “You may be aware that the State Legislature allows us to go as high has $18. It would have to be fully paid prior to receiving the certificate of occupation that allows buildings to be occupied by any workers and it will be wrapped into the zoning process.”

The proposal will now go to the Planning Board, which will hold a public hearing and make a recommendation. The zoning amendment would then come back to the City Council, which will also have a public hearing. The Council makes the ultimate decision whether to approve the amendment.

While it will take some time to approve the linkage fee, Proakis said that by publishing a notice of the proposed zoning amendment, it will apply to any project not approved before that point.

“One of the advantages for publishing it now is we are able to collect linkage fees from developments sooner,” Proakis said. “Basically, it would apply to any project that has not yet received a special permit.” 

Projects that have been approved, but not constructed, will not have to pay the fees.

The fee will not apply to all developments. Residential buildings would be exempt, as well as buildings for use by the government, buildings used for education, and those with religious uses.

For multi-building developments, the fee would be based on the overall project, not each individual building.

The amendment requires that every five years the City’s Department of Community Development and Planning study the impact of the fees and of commercial development in Watertown, and the City Manager could request that the amount of the fee be changed. The City Council would have to approve the change.

8 thoughts on “See How Much the City Proposes Charging New Developments to Fund Affordable Housing

  1. Is rent control next in the agenda? Let’s monitor Boston, Cambridge, et al, to figure out what’s coming our way for this, and many other topics.

  2. Folks,
    Below is an excerpt from my January City Council Update. I know it is long, but I think it is important to put the linkage fee in historical context and to state clearly my preference for a $15.00 per square foot fee.

    It is with great pleasure that I share the good news that our home rule petition to establish a linkage fee ordinance in Watertown has passed both chambers of the State Legislature and was signed by Governor Baker in December.  Once again our thanks to State Representatives Owens and Lawn and State Senator Brownsberger for their leadership in making this happened.  I also want to thank the Administration, particular City Manager Proakis, Steve Magoon, the Director of the Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP), and Larry Field, Senior Housing Planner at DCDP for their contributions to this effort.

    I want to particularly thank my former colleague Susan Falkoff and my colleague Councilor Caroline Bays as well as some very dedicated residents and housing advocates.  Many years ago I initiated a series of meetings over a two year period that focused on affordable housing.  Though years passed, eventually some of the recommendations from those hearings were implemented.  For example, we now have a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust and the City supported a rental assistance program during the pandemic.  However, for me the linkage fee program was the most important recommendation. For years we watched the ongoing explosion of life science developments in Watertown and yet we did not have the mechanism to require the developers to contribute to the creation of affordable housing as happens in our Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

    We now will be able to require developers of non-residential projects over 30,000 square feet, whether it is new construction or rehabilitation of existing structures, to pay a certain dollar amount per square foot.  The funds from the program can only be used to develop affordable housing.  While this is a wonderful success, our work is not over.  The ordinance presented to the City Council on Tuesday, January 24 called for the dollar amount per square foot to be $11.12.  (This was the high end of the recommendation from the nexus study conducted in the spring of 2022.)  However the home rule petition allows the dollar per square foot to be up to but no higher than $18.00.  I will be advocating for a $15.00 per square foot fee. I seek your help in making this happen!  A couple of important notes:

    1) The ordinance that came to the Council on Tuesday was sent to the Planning Board for their review.  They will discuss it at one of their regularly scheduled meetings, which are on the second Tuesday of each month.  This is the first time you can advocate for a $15.00 per square foot fee.  The next step is for the Planning Board to send the ordinance back to the City Council where it will either be passed immediately or sent to the Committee on Rules and Ordinances.  This is the second time you can advocate for the $15 fee, specifically at the Public Forum portion of the meeting. If it goes to committee that will offer one more opportunity to advocate.  Finally, when it comes out of Committee and back to the full Council, you can advocate once more, again during the Public Forum portion of the meeting.  I realize this is complicated, in part because this is not your standard ordinance, but an ordinance that changes the Zoning Code.  I will be posting updates throughout the process on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Of course, you can also call me.

    2) This is particularly important. Due to the open meeting law I am not allowed to speak to my colleagues about the ordinance.  However you can call the other members of the council to discuss the issue and to advocate for a $15 fee whenever you would like.  Contacting and engaging your councilors by email or a phone call prior to meetings is very effective.  They expect, and often look forward to, engaging with residents. 

    3) There will be some opposition to the ordinance.  Business leaders are pointing to articles about the changing economic environment that is affecting bio-tech and life science businesses.  They forecast a dire situation where Watertown will become less competitive and will no longer attract new life science development.  What they do not tell you is that for every article or quote from a financial analyst predicting doom, there is an article that announces yet another new approved project and quotes from analysts that forecast a bright future for development.  In regards to Watertown and future redevelopment, whether more life science, new office space, or light manufacturing, I think our past (and present) experience speaks for itself.  When a developer will pay whatever is asked to acquire property in Watertown, a linkage fee will not deter them.  

    4) Let’s be clear – new development, particular life-science development, in Watertown has contributed to the high cost of housing, as clearly noted in the nexus study.  Now is the time to ask developers to contribute to the creation of affordable housing that will help maintain the diversity of our community.

    As you can tell by the length of this entry, I am passionate about this issue.  I hope you will find your way to be equally passionate.

  3. I love the term “affordable housing”. I say that because I know more than a few people who worked all of their lives, downsize into a condo or rent, pay over $2,500 a month while their neighbor, who might be new to the country and never worked here, or did work, but never finished school and thus had a low paying job, only has to put up $500 a month for the same two bedroom apartment, while driving a very nice car. Oh, well. Why complain in Watertown?

    • Watertown is hardly the only place where housing costs are a challenge. The answer is more housing. Sadly, the same people who complain about costs increasing also don’t want more housing in their area. Can’t have it both ways.

  4. Hello, could someone please define “the creation of affordable housing”, also to put what is and who for affordable housing was created for. I’m sure there are a lot of homeowners paying rising taxes due to this crazy high prices of property sales looking to make their properties affordable for them and I’m one, or are we just stuck in the middle paying for everyone else. Some serious relief should come pretty soon before we get priced out ourselves, to go somewhere that is more overpriced than we we’d rather stay after all our years here. Thank You

    • Good question. The linkage fees are for low and moderate income residents. That is measured by the percent of the median income for the Boston area. I got this info from the Watertown Community Development and Planning Department.

      A low-income unit is for a household with income at or less than 50% of the Boston area median income (AMI), a moderate-income unit is for a household between 50% and 80% of Boston AMI and a middle-income unit is for a household between 80% and 100% of Boston AMI. In 2022, 80% AMI for a four-person household was $111,850 and 50% AMI for a four-person household was $70,100. The projected demand is for a combination of rental and ownership units.

    • It is because socialism does not work that way. Wait until the HUD “equity” fair housing comes into effect, sprouting low income, multiple housing all over the suburbs.

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