Mayor says Newton on track for Safe Harbor status in 2024

More than 50 years after Massachusetts set an affordable housing inventory threshold for cities and towns via Chapter 40B, Newton is almost at that goal and on its way to Safe Harbor status.

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced in an email to residents that the city is on track to meet the 10 percent affordable housing threshold this year.

“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.

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 (priced below a certain percent of the community’s median home price).

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.

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.

“If a community meets either of the safe harbors, it can enforce local zoning requirements for affordable housing projects proposed under 40B guidelines,” Fuller continued.

Fuller said 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.”

If the planned Dunston East development—which includes 73 affordable units—gets its building permit this month as expected, Fuller said, the city will have enough affordable units to become a Safe Harbor community.

“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.