Real Estate

With executive order, Mayor Wu looks to double speed of affordable housing approval process

"Building a Boston for everyone means ensuring that all of our residents and families have access to safe, affordable housing across our communities."

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu speaking before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu had a Q&A with Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s President and CEO James E. Rooney on Thursday. Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff
Michelle Wu

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday she will sign an executive order aimed at prioritizing city approvals of affordable housing developments, with an objective to retool the zoning code to slice the time to approve such projects in half.

“Building a Boston for everyone means ensuring that all of our residents and families have access to safe, affordable housing across our communities,” Wu said in a statement. “By streamlining the timeline on affordable housing projects we’ll identify ways to make our processes more predictable for all projects to keep our city green and growing.”

Wu announced the order during remarks at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Government Affairs Forum.” Her office said she plans to sign it in the coming days.


At its core, the measure is geared toward significantly reducing the length of the city’s complex approval process for affordable housing developments.

According to the Wu administration, that process, as it stands, can take nearly a year — or 337 days — to complete. Wu’s executive order is aimed at cutting that time by as much as 50 percent.

Specifically, Wu will direct the Boston Planning and Development Agency to study and recommend changes to Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code to “establish an alternative path for the review of affordable housing developments,” officials said in a news release.

“The new process will include community engagement and thorough agency review, but also establish clear and accelerated timelines,” officials said. “The order directs that any currently required review processes not take place if there was previous community engagement during the disposition of City- or BPDA-owned land that is proposed for affordable housing development.”

Additionally, the city will form the Affordable Housing Development Review Advisory Committee to examine how City Hall can expedite the approvals and permitting processes.

“This executive order will require City departments to prioritize the review of affordable housing developments and create new processes that will streamline our work and the work of our development partners,” the city’s Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon said in a statement. “We know that access to affordable housing helps stabilize the lives of those who receive it — giving them predictability in budgeting, and allowing them to put down roots in our neighborhoods. This prioritization is the right thing to do.”


The BPDA will also look at challenges developments face in zoning laws and publish a report with potential changes that incentivize building affordable housing “while minimizing the need for variances or other permitting burdens for these projects,” officials said.

Furthermore, the order directs nine city agencies to “immediately give affordable developments priority status on any and all meeting schedules.”

“It also directs these agencies to evaluate existing review requirements to identify those that can be done concurrently and those that are potentially unnecessary,” Wu’s office said.

Boosting the city’s affordable housing has been a pillar objective of Wu’s administration.

Through the city budget passed earlier this year, Wu allocated $380 million for housing affordability efforts.

Thursday’s announcement also came on the heels of Wu overhauling the Zoning Board of Appeal, putting forward a diverse slate of appointees, including income-restricted renters, homeowners, and immigrants.


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