Known for its brownstone buildings and high-end shopping stores, the Back Bay tends to cater to a wealthier clientele. But residents of the community want to help stem the high-ticket prices of residential units in the area by creating more affordable housing.
One area where residents are fighting for is at the proposed 1000 Boylston St. air-rights development located next to the Prudential Center at the intersection of Back Bay, Fenway and the South End.
Currently the developers, Weiner Ventures, are asking the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to provide their required Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) affordable units off-site in a nearby neighborhood.
But residents either would like to see the units on-site or within the Back Bay, which has been a difficult task to find a suitable location.
At a recent Community Advisory Committee meeting on the proposed 1000 Boylston St. on Tuesday, Feb. 13, BPDA officials explained why it is so hard to find places for affordable housing in the Back Bay neighborhood.
“We are very understanding that people would like to see the affordable units in the neighborhood,” said Tim Davis, housing policy manager for the BPDA. “We take your thoughts and feelings of having affordable housing in the Back Bay to heart, but there is a shear lack of land to make income-restricted housing and no vacant or working land [such as income-restricted units that might expire soon.]”
The proposed project consists of a single condominium tower containing up to approximately 108 condominium units, rising from a podium base containing two stories of retail and two stories of above-ground parking, plus an amenities floor for residents.
Boston IDP leverages private developments to support income-restricted and affordable housing without the need for public subsidies. Boston’s IDP applies to any proposed residential project that has 10 or more units and requires zoning relief or is financed by the city or is built on property owned by the city.
The units are targeted for low-to moderate-income households, which are funded by subsidies from federal, state and City of Boston sources.
Rental units are made available to households earning up to 70 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and homeownership units are made available to households earning 80 percent and 100 percent of AMI.
At this location the required on-site units would be 13 percent of the total units, which is about 15 units. If the units are off-site the developers are required to build 18 percent of total units at 50 percent of price differential.
A third option for the developer is to cash out and contribute to IDP fund, which goes towards affordable housing throughout the city.
“Why spend $5 million for one unit on site when you can make six units nearby?” asked Davis.
Since the unit sizes are so large in this project, Davis said if it was on site they would only get around 15 units, but if you take in the square footage of the units you could potentially get 40 to 50 units off-site.
Davis said they are looking for a place that will provide those units in the immediate area, including a potential site in the other end of the South End. In addition they are continuing to look at other places that are within a half-mile of the project site.
“There is a tremendous dearth of affordable housing in the Back Bay,” said Marvin Wool, a member of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “We do not count the number of units – we count the number of people who can get into these units. We would like to see the affordable units reflect our neighborhood.”
Wool asked what the unit sizes would be and if they would be made available to families, which could house more people per unit versus a single person or couple.
The developer said they hadn’t done the configuration of the units yet, and don’t know the breakdown of the units as to how many studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms or three-bedrooms there will be yet. He added it is subject to change as the project progresses.
One resident pointed to Newbury Street and the apartments above the stores as a potential site. Another pointed to some buildings owned by a local church.
As one Back Bay resident put it, “We’ll take anything we can get.”
In order for the 1000 Boylston St. project to move forward the developers need to receive the building permit for the off-site affordable units.
If the BPDA and the developers fail to find a suitable off-site location, the cash out option is as of right for the developers to proceed.
The BPDA is expected to bring this project to the board for a vote at the BPDA board meeting on March 15. The comment period for this project ends on March 12.