Boston program helps small developers put affordable housing on vacant lots

Some of the city-owned parcels speckling Boston have stood vacant for decades, unused and frequently described as “missing teeth” in the face of a neighborhood.

New hope for those properties is on hand, the Walsh administration says, through a program geared toward building one- and two-family housing.

The Neighborhood Homes Initiative, which will soon see its first units under construction, is designed to turn some 250 city-owned parcels into housing affordable to a range of middle-class home buyers. The plan implements a unique streamlining process with multiple stages of neighborhood approval to ensure that whatever house is built on a lot fits in with the surrounding community.

The process started with a survey of city-owned parcels shortly after Mayor Martin Walsh came into office, said housing chief Sheila Dillon, that identified hundreds of small, vacant lots primed for small-scale development.

Those lots are grouped into development “packages,” so a developer or builder will take on multiple units with different designs. “Being very conscious that there are small developers out there who can’t handle large packages, we have made some of the packages very small to really encourage local participation,” Dillon said.

Every step of the initiative is taken with an eye toward reducing friction in the development process.

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