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News & Updates

Mayor Walsh, City of Boston create path for more affordable housing through Additional Dwelling Units

Apr 12, 2019

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) Board of Directors has approved a citywide zoning text amendment that would allow owner occupants to carve out space within their homes to create smaller, independent rental units, known as Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs). In accordance with Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Housing A Changing City, ADUs will increase affordable housing options, create safer living arrangements and support multigenerational family arrangements and opportunities for aging in place. ADUs provide an opportunity to use existing infrastructure to achieve the City of Boston’s housing goals.

Last week, Mayor Walsh announced funding for the expansion of the ADU program as part of his Fiscal Year (FY20) budget recommendations. This $650,000 investment will provide zero-interest loans for income-eligible homeowners.

The approval of the zoning amendment follows a successful 18-month ADU pilot program in the Jamaica Plain, Greater Mattapan and East Boston Neighborhood Districts. As of February 2019, 55 applications have been filed with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) for ADUs and 12 permits have been issued. The majority of applications - 88 percent - have been for basement conversions.

“We must be innovative and think creatively in order to accomplish our goals of providing more affordable housing options for those that want to live here,” said Mayor Walsh. “Additional Dwelling Units are an important part of our efforts to create additional housing for our growing population while ensuring that our residents have the opportunity to stay in their homes.”

An ADU is one self-contained, non-transient residential living unit providing complete independent living facilities incorporated entirely within the footprint of the existing, owner occupied residential structure. The residential structure cannot contain more than three dwelling units. The program will not apply to the Downtown and Downtown Waterfront neighborhoods that fall within the Base Code Zoning.

The City of Boston will provide homeowners interested in building an ADU with additional resources, including:
  • An online toolkit will support homeowners with information about applying for a permit, identifying the cost of building a unit, budgeting and financing, and explaining the type of ADUs allowed.
  • A zero interest deferred equity loan up to $30,000 may be available for eligible homeowners through the Boston Home Center.
“Boston’s housing crisis cannot be solved through the creation of new units in bulk alone. The City must also find ways to evolve our 19th century residential fabric to meet the needs of its 21st century occupants,”  said Matthew Littell, Principal of Utile Inc and Northeastern lecturer whose class aided with initial research on ADUs. “ADUs can provide the flexibility to support not only a growing population, but a more diverse and vulnerable one. Allowing homeowners more freedom to adapt their existing homes to changing needs sets the stage for long term preservation of neighborhoods that continue to struggle with the pressures of Boston’s unprecedented growth.”

Under the text amendment, an ADU shall be an allowed use where it may be otherwise conditional or forbidden, provided that it is the addition of no more than one dwelling unit to the existing structure. The additional unit must meet building and safety code requirements and be registered in accordance with Ch. 9-1.3 of the City of Boston Rental Registry Ordinance at the time of conversion.

The approval of ADUs is a joint effort by the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab at the Department of Neighborhood Development, the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and the BPDA. The amendment was approved by the Boston Zoning Commission on May 8, 2019.

This approval continues Mayor Walsh's commitment to preserving and expanding Boston's affordable housing, ensuring all families who wish to live in Boston can. Last month, Mayor Walsh and the City's Community Preservation Committee recommended 56 projects, totaling more than $34 million, for inclusion in the fall funding round for the Community Preservation Act. In 2018, Mayor Walsh increased the City's overall housing targets from 53,000 to 69,000 new units by 2030, including 15,820 income-restricted units, to meet Boston's population growth. These income-restricted units will include purchasing 1,000 rental housing units from the speculative market and income-restricting them through an expanded Acquisition Opportunity Program.

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