Number of housing units approved in Boston dropped in 2022

In 2022, the number of residential units in the city fell by more than half compared to the previous year to a level not seen in a long time.

Last year, the BPDA approved 3,247 new units, according to the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s annual report. That’s, as the Contrarian Boston Newsletter first pointed out, down from 6,643 in the previous year and 10,123 in 2020, according to those years’ annual reports.

It’s also below the readings of 4,974 in 2019, 4,219 in 2018, 5,349 in 2017, and 7,686 in 2016. That’s as far back as BPDA annual reports are available online.

The quasi-urban agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday about what is driving this.

An obvious answer to volatility is an element of luck in the draw. 2020, for example, managed to avoid a much tighter year than last year by seeing approval of the gargantuan Suffolk Downs mega-project that will essentially create a new neighborhood on the Boston-Revere line.

More worryingly, however, rising interest rates for borrowers and a shaky macroeconomic picture both nationally and globally continue to worry some. Boston has also gotten developers to pay more through “linkage” and “inclusive zoning” policies — laws that require more from the people who build in the city, monetary contributions to be used for affordable housing or other areas , and the city’s planning to further strengthen this need more cash.

Advocates and the city itself have also pushed for more affordable housing. Noting that 1,164, or 36% of units approved in 2022, were income-restricted, the BPDA report said, “This is the highest percentage of income-restricted units approved in the past decade.”

That seems to be true – by a hair’s breadth, because in 2021 the rate was less than one percentage point lower, so the absolute number of income-restricted units was about twice as high according to the previous year’s report. Curiously, another document from the long stretched BPDA has slightly different numbers than the 2021 year-end report, with the total being a little lower and the affordable number a nudge higher – and the change would actually bring 2021 back above 2022.

The BPDA changed leadership for the first time in nearly a decade, with Brian Golden departing and Arthur Jemison joining mid-year. This follows the mayoral change, as Golden was a longtime ally of former Mayor Marty Walsh and Jemison was Mayor Michelle Wu’s choice.

Wu reinstated the long-dormant Cabinet position of Chief of Planning for Jemison in her administration, so he’s head of the quasi-independent BPDA and also one of her top lieutenants.

Wu has long vowed to abolish the BPDA and bring many of its operations back under City Hall control. Now, more than a year into her tenure, that has not happened, but she is expected to soon launch plans for the future of the long-controversial agency. Many significant changes would require City Council and Beacon Hill approval.

Housing developments near Suffolk Downs on Monday.  (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)
Housing developments near Suffolk Downs on Monday. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

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