Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Boston City Council Looks At Landmarking, Life Sciences, Inclusionary Development Policy & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Below are a few highlights from February 10, 2021 Boston City Council meeting:


Special Law re: Boston Landmarks Commission: Councilor Edwards reported back from the Committee on Government Operations on a hearing held to discuss a home rule petition to change the definition of the term landmark, allowing resources and places with significance to Boston’s neighborhoods to be eligible for landmark designation. The matter will be further discussed at a working session. 

COVID-19 Vaccines: Councilor Arroyo reported back from the Committee on Public Health regarding a hearing to discuss COVID-19 vaccines. At the hearing, representatives from the Administration, including Chief Martinez from the Health and Human Services and Dr. Lo from the BHPC gave an update on the state and City’s vaccination distribution phases, the city’s current vaccine strategy, issues surrounding language access and cultural competency, partnerships with community health centers and other organizations, and communication with Boston residents. Representatives of Boston’s health care institutions and other community members also gave testimony, leading to a productive conversation on vaccine coordination, distribution and education in order to minimize duplication of efforts and ensure that Black and Latinx communities and other more vulnerable residents are prioritized in vaccination efforts. This matter will remain in the Committee on Public Health.


PILOT Community Benefits Agreements: Councilors Bok, Janey and Breadon called for a hearing regarding increasing oversight, transparency, and coordination of Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) community benefits offsets. Universities, hospitals, and other institutions rely on the city for strong public infrastructure, but often provide too few opportunities for residents to benefit from the prosperity they create. The City has previously identified 47 such institutions that own tax-exempt property, valued at $15 million, but the Office of Assessing has agreed to update their valuation over the course of 2021. Each of these institutions is eligible for a community benefits deduction, generally restricted to 50% of the requested PILOT contribution. Approximately 61% of PILOT contributions that the City receives are in the form of community benefits. Updating the community benefits requirements of the PILOT program, in line with the recommendations in the PILOT Action Group’s 2018 report, would ensure Boston's institutions more meaningfully contribute to Boston’s communities. This matter was assigned to the Committee on PILOT Agreements. 

Barriers to Rental Housing: Councilors Bok, Janey and Campbell called for a hearing regarding reducing barriers to securing rental housing in Boston. Major barriers to obtaining housing, that are currently legal in the City of Boston, include credit screenings and criminal background checks, as well as large security deposits and deposits or fees required to fill out rental applications. Reforms to credit screening by landlords are especially needed as the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are increasing the amount of Boston residents that have been evicted, rely on credit cards to purchase basic needs, are out of work, and are unable to pay passed-due rent or other debts. This matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development.

Life Sciences Laboratories: Councilors Flynn and Flaherty called for a hearing to discuss zoning and the community outreach process for life sciences laboratories in the City of Boston. Last year, a life sciences laboratory began construction next to a residential building in South Boston without a community process. Because the laboratory was in an area zoned as Restrictive Manufacturing and therefore deemed to be zoning compliant, the proponent could bypass a community process. Amending the zoning code could afford residents the opportunity to have a say in what gets built in their community. This matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation. 

Inclusionary Development Policy: Councilor Edwards called for a hearing regarding the state of affordable housing as to Boston’s inclusionary development policy (IDP). The IDP was created in 2000 to set requirements for large and medium scale developers to create or preserve affordable housing in any new development with 10 or more units that requires zoning relief. IDP units are deemed affordable according to the Area Median Income (AMI) metric, which is based on incomes of households in the entire Greater Boston region, making many units unaffordable to many residents. The majority of IDP units are studios or 1-bedrooms, failing to meet the needs of families looking for housing. This matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development. 

Construction and Utility Permits: Councilor Edwards called for a hearing regarding the coordination and community notice of the issuance of construction and utility permits. Both residential construction and public utility work can have a significant impact on residents’ quality of life, particularly if numerous projects happen simultaneously in a small geographic area. The Inspectional Services Department and  the Department of Public Works issue the permits necessary for these projects and could issue them in such a way to minimize quality of life issues. This matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation. 

UPCOMING HEARINGS (Streaming Online) 

  • Our next City Council meeting will be on Wednesday, February 24th at 12PM.
  • Tuesday, February 16th at 10AM: Hearing to discuss an ordinance to establish guidelines for permitting retail residential kitchens (Committee on Government Operations)
  • Thursday, March 4th at 12PM: Hearing regarding a text amendment to the Boston Zoning Code relative to affordable housing and jobs training exactions (Committee on Government Operations)
For complete notes of Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com to sign up to receive Council Notes automatically.

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