BPDA, ISD Discuss Expanding Additional Dwelling Unit Pilot Program

Last year, the Boston Inspectional Service Department (ISD) Commissioner William Christopher announced that East Boston and several Boston neighborhoods that would take part in the Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) pilot program.

Christopher said that the proposed program was ISD’s way to respond to all the high-end condos going up across the city. The city found that a lot of larger older building in places like East Boston could accommodate an additional unit without adding to the building’s footprint. This means no additions, no raised roofs, no structural changes of any kind but the opportunity for owner occupied homeowners, like empty nesters, to make a little extra cash and remain in the neighborhood.

This week the Boston Planning and Development Agency held a hearing to discuss whether or not the program should be taken citywide.

According to Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Bonnie McGilpin the BPDA, ISD and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) are putting together recommendations to expand the ADU program that will be presented at the BPDA’s March board meeting. In order to expand the program some amendments to local zoning would need to be approved by both the BPDA board and the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA)

McGilpin said expansion of the ADU program would exclude Downtown and Downtown Waterfront neighborhoods but would include neighborhood’s like Eastie. 

McGilpin said if the BPDA accepts the package and changes to zoning to expand the program the ZBA will most likely vote on the issue in April.

During the pilot program in the three neighborhoods homeowners applied to for an ADU through ISD and submitted drawings that were reviewed by both ISD and the BPDA.

There were a few catches to the program. For one, you had to live in the house, you could not go above three units and there are building code requirements and issues that are not going to be compromised. Interested homeowners then would submit a set of drawing to be reviewed by ISD and the BPDA so the two agencies can make sure it is a real unit that is habitable and is up to code.

ISD Commissioner Christopher said the intention of the program is not to create high priced housing but 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 and a way of trying to keep people in the neighborhood without changing the look or fabric of the neighborhood.

The pilot program also provided additional resources to support homeowners interested in building an ADU. An online toolkit supported homeowners with information about applying for a permit, identifying the cost of building a unit and explaining the type of ADUs allowed. The city also provided a zero interest deferred equity loan up to $30,000 for eligible homeowners through the Boston Home Center.

Under the pilot program an ADU project was considered  an ‘allowed use’ when it may have otherwise been deemed a ‘conditional’ or ‘forbidden’ use under current zoning.

However, this ‘allowable’ use came with some restrictions. The ADU addition could not be more than one dwelling unit added to the existing structure. That unit would be exempt from all provisions of the Boston Zoning Code provided the addition did not involve any bump outs, extensions or anything that changed the existing footprint of the structure.

Mayor Martin Walsh supported the program saying ADUs will increase affordable housing options, create safer living arrangements and support multigenerational family arrangements and opportunities for aging in place so homeowners can remain in their homes. ADUs provide an opportunity to use existing infrastructure to achieve the City’s housing goals.

“We must be innovative and think creatively in order to accomplish our goals of providing more affordable housing options for those that want to live here,” said Walsh. “Additional Dwelling Units are an important component in our efforts to create additional housing for our growing population while ensuring that our residents have the opportunity to stay in their homes.”

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