When is “affordable” really “affordable*?”

Much has been said about the lack of truly affordable housing in Newton.  It is undeniable that many who work in Newton to provide the services that we rely on daily are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live here.  This is a problem we all want to solve.

So, it is not surprising that one of the leading arguments for outsized developments has been that the affordable housing it will bring outweighs the traffic it will create and our  already overcrowded schools.

Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance requires any new development that requires a special permit (such as Northland’s proposed development on Needham street) to make 15% of their units affordable (hence the 123 affordable units in Northland’s proposal of 822 total units).

What does “affordable” mean?  There are two components: the first is eligibility and the second is cost.

To be eligible to rent these affordable units, the renter’s income must be below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), as reported by HUD.  For the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area that Newton is considered part of, the AMI is $108k / year (and rising).  The precise calculation of maximum income is somewhat complex, but this generally means that someone making up to $86,000 a year would be able to apply to rent one of these affordable units.

For those that qualify and are lucky enough to be picked to rent a unit, the rent itself, while also involving a complicated formula, would generally be capped at 30% of the income limit, so $2,160 a month.

In a vacuum, any net-new affordable units are a good thing.  But developments do not exist in a vacuum.  The price we pay for these affordable units will be the traffic, school overcrowding and environmental impact of the entire development, all nearly 2,000,000 square feet of it.

So, is this “affordable” housing, or is it really “affordable*” housing?

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