By John Lynds
Boston Inspectional Service Department (ISD) Commissioner William Christopher announced that East Boston has been picked as one of three neighborhoods to take part in a new city initiative.
Christopher announced at Monday night’s Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA) that Eastie will take part in the city’s Additional Swelling Unit (ADU) pilot program.
“The ADU program is a new program we are piloting and we are not sure if it is going to work,” said Christopher. “This is a test and we picked three neighborhoods and East Boston happens to be one of them. Essentially what we are trying to do is respond to all the high-end condos going up. We’ve been doing some looking and found that a lot of the larger older building in the city can accommodate an additional unit without coming outside the building’s footprint. This means no additions, no raised roofs, etc.”
Christopher said the pilot program will allow for owner-occupied home owners to explore whether or not they meet ISD’s criteria to add an additional unit. If they get approval from ISD and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) the homeowners will be able to add one additional unit. Christopher said the program caps the number of units at four so a three unit building can go to four, a two unit building can go to three and a one unit building can go to two units.
Once the pilot program comes online, following a City Council hearing, Christopher said homeowners can apply to ISD and submit drawings that will be reviewed by both ISD and BPDA.
“I caution that not everyone is going to qualify for this program,” said Christopher. “You have to live in the house, you can not go above four units and there are building code requirements and issues that are not going to be compromised. Interested homeowners will apply by submitting a set of drawing to be reviewed by ISD and the BPDA so we can make sure it is a real unit that is habitable and is up to code.”
“Our intention is not to create high priced housing,” said Christopher. “We are going to run the program for 18 months and see if it works. The intention is to allow for a homeowner to build an additional unit for a mother or father or a mother and father to build an additional unit for a son or daughter.”
Christopher said the pilot program is a way of trying to keep people in the neighborhood without changing the look or fabric of the neighborhood.
“We all know that buildings are being bought up, demolished and replaced with 6 or 8-unit high priced condos,” said Christopher. “Gentrification is something that Mayor Martin Walsh is very concerned about and this is an attempt to address that. This is being done across the country and we believe the program has merit.”
Christopher said ISD and the BPDA will also partner with the Department of Neighborhood Development to provide grant money to those who may need financial support like the elderly.
“In some studies that we have done, we found, like in South Boston for example, that a lot of folks on fixed incomes had no way of making additional money,” explained Christopher. “So along comes a developer and offers them $1 million for their three family. Well that’s all fine and good but it displaces that longtime resident. They are leaving a neighborhood they may have grown up in and are comfortable with. We found that if they could have gotten a little more disposable income they would have stayed in the neighborhood.”
Christopher also added there are several layers of protection for the neighborhood. For example if someone participates in the program and then sells their home with the additional unit, Christopher explained that unless the buyer plans to live in the home they will lose the additional unit.”