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The search is under way for a site to hold 25 units of affordable housing in trade for the ability to build near Central Square, said Peter Calkins, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the developer Forest City.
“We are even as we speak actively looking at sites,” Calkins said at a Wednesday meeting of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee. “It’s very much our intention and goal to deliver the housing ourselves.”
The assurance came in response to city councillors worried about the developer’s promise to provide the units within seven years or pay $5 million into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust. That’s $1 million more than was promised officially just two weeks ago at a committee meeting but didn’t address the concerns of Denise Simmons, Minka vanBeuzekom or Leland Cheung that the default money wasn’t adjusted for inflation.
“I’m pleased that you’ve increased the amount, but the only thing – and I raised this at the last meeting – is that there should be some reflection of the consumer price index. If the housing isn’t built for another seven or eight years, the value [of $5 million] isn’t going to be the value it is now,” Simmons said.
Another step Forest City took in its quest to put up a 246,716-square-foot building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. for the Millennium biotech company was making it official that there would be 25 units, rather than the 20 promised in August. The company has been seeking a zoning change since May 1 that will let it build up to 95 feet high plus a “penthouse” of heating and air conditioning machinery in an area otherwise limited to 80-foot heights.
Two weeks ago councillors vanBeuzekom and Craig Kelley also asked for a lump-sum payment of $1.08 million in community benefits upon approval of the zoning, rather than in four equal payments, but like an adjustment for inflation, that change wasn’t reflected in the updated proposal by Forest City.
“There are some practical considerations,” Forest City attorney James Rafferty said. “There will be other councils in the future, and there would be nothing to prevent a future council from adopting a dissimilar zoning petition that would remove [Forest City’s] rights, in which case the petitioner would have paid for something it never got to build.” Paying after other city boards and departments takes steps to allow the building also guarantees those steps get taken, he said – while vanBeuzekom replied that it seemed to her that paying ahead of time was a stronger way to guarantee that.
Forest City is already locking in 168 units of affordable housing on its University Park, in which it has built office, lab and residential space with up to 75 years of land grants from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The 25 units of additional affordable housing is roughly the amount in a residential tower Forest City wanted to build, but withdrew because of public backlash over it replacing much of a small park at Massachusetts Avenue and Sidney Street.
A letter from Forest City available at the Wednesday meeting laid out five ways the affordable housing units would be provided: construction of housing on a site not used for affordable housing before January 2007; conversion of a nonresidential structure; building of more units on a site that already has housing; conversion of existing market-rate units to affordable units; or “investment in and sponsorship of a project that will cause the production of 20 affordable units.”
Members of the public wondered how it would wind up.
While Charles Teague conjectured that the company could pay into and claim units already going up in the far-away NorthPoint as satisfying its requirement, resident Kathy Hoffman imagined Forest City taking the opportunity to put up another large project.
“We are talking about a building of 175 units, of which 150 will be not-affordable, will be market rate, will be, I don’t know what, micro-units?” Hoffman said. “To me it would be better to have them give the city the ability to build 25 affordable units … of course, $5 million isn’t going to build 25 affordable units, so that needs to be negotiated.”
If a 175-unit building went up, Sherri Tucker said, she hoped to see it hold large units that could house families instead of micro-units meant for single people who would likely not be residents for long.