Wu Says This Is The Year She’ll Start Breaking Up The BPDA
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced her first concrete steps to reduce the influence of the Boston Planning & Development Agency — which she vowed to "abolish" during her campaign — in her State of the City address Wednesday night.
Speaking at the MGM Music Hall, Wu outlined plans to ramp up affordable housing production and develop new planning bodies that would weaken the BPDA's grasp in the upcoming months.
"Boston saw the largest building boom in generations: cranes in the sky and jobs on the ground," Wu said. "But that growth wasn’t harnessed for the benefit of all our communities. Not planning for community stability meant that even as our population grew, many were squeezed out."
Wu said that on Thursday she will sign an executive order that will establish a Planning Advisory Council, which will focus on a range of planning decisions and modernizing the city's zoning codes. Another way she plans on reducing the BPDA's influence is to create a new City Planning and Design Department that will take on the BPDA's planning functions.
Wu also said that compliance and enforcement efforts the BPDA had taken on will be transferred to the Mayor's Office of Housing. Wu said the way the current system stands, it does not match the needs of the city.
"There is a lot that our current planning, development and zoning process encompasses. This agency as it currently exists is a mishmash of all different decades," Wu said to the reporters after her speech. "That complexity and the way that it's organized and held accountable has direct impacts in how we grow."
Wu has other changes in the pipeline for the next couple of months, including efforts to ramp up affordable housing production and a cap on rent increases.
Last week, the Wu administration floated a proposal of a 10% rent increase cap, and at the speech she said that she plans to sign a home rule petition requesting the rule in the coming weeks. The petition still needs to be approved by the city council and state legislators before it can be enacted.
In the next month, she also plans to sign another home rule petition to switch the city's urban renewal program's focus from eradicating blight to "resiliency, affordability and equity" and hopes to bring on a steering group of real estate and housing advocate leaders to recommend changes to the Article 80 process.
"We’ll simplify and accelerate timelines so that good projects get shovels in the ground faster," Wu said.
In terms of affordable housing production in the city, she called on local builders to create affordable housing plans for the city's 150 vacant lots. Projects that qualify will be given the land for free, she said.
Although she talked about all of the new proposals that she plans to bring about this year, Wu didn't mention her recent proposed changes to the Inclusionary Development and Linkage Fee policies that would lower the threshold on both in a hope to produce more affordable housing in new developments.
Both changes are still going through public hearing processes, and the local real estate industry has criticized them as policies that would make it harder to build new housing.
When asked how financially viable these proposals are, Wu said that all of these changes she's making now will help the next generations, using the recent failures of the MBTA's outdated infrastructure as an example of what she hopes to avoid.
"What we don't do now, we are passing on these costs to our children and our children's children," Wu said. "When we build buildings that aren't using climate protections or are not securing us against flooding, we end up paying for that down the line."