Achievement Unlocked: Newton reaches Safe Harbor status

[Design for Dunstan East development. Courtesy Photo]

Last Friday afternoon, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced that the city was on track to reach its Chapter 40B affordable housing threshold in 2024, possibly in January.

On Tuesday, Fuller sent out another email announcing that the city had reached that goal on Monday, achieving Safe Harbor status “for the first time in Newton’s history.

“This milestone means that Newton is now over the State’s minimum affordable unit threshold of 10%,” Fuller wrote. “A building permit was issued yesterday, Monday, January 8, to the new owners of Dunstan East to construct 292 residential units, 73 of which would be permanently affordable.”

In 1969, Massachusetts enacted Chapter 40B, a statute that allows developers to bypass certain zoning requirements if a certain percent of a proposed development’s housing units are set aside for “affordable” pricing, at below a certain percent of the area’s median income.

Chapter 40B has been used to shore up affordable housing supply and ensure that each community plays a role in getting the state to its goal by allowing developers much more leeway in cities and towns that haven’t met their affordability goal.

“With 33,116 year-round housing units in Newton according to the 2020 census, the State’s minimum affordable unit threshold in Newton is 3,312 units (or 10% of our housing stock),” Fuller wrote on Friday in anticipation of the milestone.

Two ways there

Once a community meets that affordable housing goal under Chapter 40B, or alternately, has affordable housing inventory on 1.5 percent of the community’s total land area, that community is designated a Safe Harbor community.

Fuller said on Friday that after updating calculations, the city is set to reach both soon. In addition to being close to the 10 percent affordable housing goal, Newton’s affordable housing sits on 1.41 percent of the city’s total land area, she wrote.

“Based on the latest calculation, Newton needs approximately 7 additional acres of SHI [subsidized housing inventory] housing in order to reach the 1.5% safe harbor,” Fuller explained. “As of right now, Newton’s total housing unit calculation is now at 9.94%, an increase from the 9.80% last year, and still slightly below the 10% threshold. Based on the latest calculation, Newton needs approximately 20 additional SHI units to reach the 10% safe harbor.”

The Dunston East development getting its building permit means the city satisfies both avenues for Safe Harbor status.

“Please know that the achievement of a ‘safe harbor’ still allows our Zoning Board of Appeals the ability to grant additional comprehensive permits to developers seeking to construct housing,” Fulller added. “In addition, we still will have plenty of work to do once we achieve ‘safe harbor’ as we all know that we need more affordable housing in Newton than we have today.”

Fuller’s email links to a memo from the Planning Department that goes through all the details of the city’s affordable housing progress.