In a city with one of the country’s most expensive housing markets, lawmakers are thinking differently about where to build affordable housing. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s Office of Housing just released an RFP to developers for a new 17,500-square-foot public library at the city’s Cambridge Street location that will also include five floors of affordable housing units above the ground-floor library space. The idea isn’t new, a similar project is already in the works in the city’s Chinatown, where 66 apartments and 44 condos will be built atop a new library, while proposals are being considered for another branch in the Dorchester neighborhood.
Boston’s Mayor Wu has been pushing for more affordable housing since she took office in 2021. Earlier this year, Wu’s administration unveiled a $67 million plan to bring more affordable housing online. The projects include turning a former Catholic church into an affordable housing community and the first Mixed Income Neighborhood Trust to be formed in the state of Massachusetts. Many other big cities are also looking at how to get affordable housing built through adaptive reuse or atop existing buildings. A number of cities are looking at turning empty office buildings into market-rate and affordable housing, including Washington, D.C., New York City, and Dallas. Creative ideas like those in Boston will be needed to get more affordable housing built, especially given worsening economic conditions and persistent high construction costs, both of which have created hurdles for development.