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Mayor Warren’s Planning Department floated some ideas last month designed to create more affordable housing in Newton through changes to the city’s inclusionary zoning policies. I’m hardly an expert on zoning but will try to explain it as best I can. I hope others who know more about this will jump in, correct me and expand on this.

Under Newton’s current inclusionary zoning rules, when a developer builds a housing project of more than two units that requires a special permit, 15 percent of that project has to be “affordable.” (Or the developer has to pay into an affordable housing fund.)

Since 1970, this requirement, (which was raised from 10 to 15 percent in 2003) has resulted in the creation of 147 affordable units.

This new proposal suggests changing the rules from “more than two units” to “one or more units” and suggests raising the affordable component on a sliding scale to as much as 25 percent (depending on the number of units) even if a special permit is not required.

In other words, even someone who is building a new single-family or two-family market-rate home would be required to contribute to creating new affordable housing units in Newton.

As the memo points out, Newton is not alone in considering an adjustment to its current inclusionary zoning.  Boston (2015), Cambridge (2017), and Somerville (2017) have all amended their inclusionary housing provisions.

The Planning Department memo makes other recommendations as well and ends with this:

 “….we are still at the beginning stages of exploring these proposed changes with city leadership, staff, committees, boards, and the community at large. We look forward to vetting these ideas and soliciting feedback from multiple stakeholders over the next few months as we work to create an ordinance that more effectively balances our City’s growing need for affordable housing units for populations at all income levels.”

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