Skip to main content

Groundbreaking Efforts in Boston to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing


In Depth

Groundbreaking Efforts in Boston to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing

Photograph of the upper stories of a brick multifamily building. Boston has amended its zoning ordinance to require fair housing assessments and mitigation commitments as part of the development review process for major projects that have residential components.

In 2016, in response to HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and accompanying assessment tool, the city of Boston began preparing an assessment of fair housing. The city’s assessment outlines 14 goals and more than 100 actions, including a call to use zoning regulations as a fair housing tool. In June 2020, then-mayor Marty Walsh announced three initiatives to promote racial equity and end systemic racism: establishing an Equity and Inclusion Cabinet, launching the Boston Racial Equity Fund, and amending Boston’s zoning ordinance to promote fair housing citywide. The last item was accomplished on January 14, 2021, when Walsh signed Text Amendment 446 as adopted by the zoning commission.

The AFFH zoning amendment adds requirements for fair housing assessments to the development review procedures in Article 80 of the zoning ordinance. The amendment requires an AFFH assessment for proposed large developments that include residences. “Large developments” are defined as projects to construct or expand buildings by at least 50,000 square feet or to rehabilitate or change the use of at least 100,000 square feet of floor area. The amendment applies similar requirements to proposed master plans or development plans with residential components for planned development areas. The developer must discuss the AFFH assessment with the Boston Interagency Fair Housing Development Committee, newly created by the amendment. The committee then provides its advisory opinion to the Boston Planning and Development Agency Board, which approves or disapproves the development application.

Applicants prepare the AFFH assessment by completing the Article 80 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Assessment Tool. The tool, along with a guide for using the tool, asks the applicant to describe the size and scope of the proposed development and the number of current or former tenants living at the site within the past 2 years who are disabled or housing voucher recipients. The assessment tool also requires the applicant to commit to strategies that address the city’s AFFH goals. All applicants must select at least one intervention option, which must be proportional to the size, scope, and impact of the development. The options include providing additional affordable or accessible units; setting lower income targets for affordability; increasing the number of units with two or more bedrooms; and agreeing to host project-based voucher or Rental Assistance Demonstration units. Applicants can propose other interventions. Examples of such supplemental options listed in the assessment tool include establishing or contributing to a housing fund, providing flexible lease options, and offering tenants the right of first refusal when the property is sold.

In addition, the applicant must estimate current levels of exclusion and displacement near the development using data from the city’s Housing and Housing Composition Community Profile web page and the Displacement Risk Index and Maps resource and propose how the project might mitigate these conditions. Applicants might have to introduce one or more interventions to achieve a more integrated, inclusive, and welcoming community. If the development is in an area of high displacement risk or an area of historical exclusion, applicants must provide at least one such intervention. One option for developments in high displacement risk areas is to select tenants through a process that gives preference to neighborhood residents deemed eligible under the city’s Diversity Preservation Preferences policy. Applicants for planned development areas are also required to select an intervention to address these conditions.

The applicant’s AFFH assessment must also include at least one intervention for marketing and tenant selection. The applicant must describe how they intend to market units to neighborhood residents, especially those whose primary language is not English as well as members of protected classes. In addition, the tenant selection and occupancy policies should address eligibility criteria (such as criminal records, eviction history, and credit reports) and application fees and deposits.

The AFFH zoning amendment also requires that applications for large developments and planned development areas include an Accessibility Checklist and a Smart Utilities Checklist. The Accessibility Checklist is designed to minimize architectural barriers; provide accessible connections between the development and its surroundings; and offer inclusive opportunities for education, employment, and recreation. The Smart Utilities Checklist ensures that developments provide innovative utilities that are affordable, equitable, and sustainable.

Click here to access Boston’s Text Amendment 446 and information about how the amendment addresses regulatory barriers. Find more plans, regulations, and research that state and local governments can use to reduce impediments to affordable housing here.

Read past articles

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.