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Part of making more housing available at all price ranges in all markets is the active role of local jurisdictions. Here, Boston is leading the charge, creating a group to focus on the issue and provide solutions, even changing policy to provide a successful path forward.

Mayor Martin Walsh’s Housing Innovation Lab hosted a housing affordability panel event at the 86th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors that took place in Boston over the weekend. The panel highlighted the iLab’s current pilot programs that aim to address the city’s housing affordability crisis.

Discussing their role in each pilot program were William Christopher Jr., commissioner of the city’s Department of Inspectional Services; David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library; Corey Zehngebot, senior designer for the Boston Planning and Development Agency; and Emily Shea, the city’s commissioner for Affairs of the Elderly.

The pilot programs were experiments on additional dwelling units, compact living, intergenerational homeshare and housing with public assets.

Marcy Ostberg, director of the iLab, moderated the panel discussion.

“Boston is experiencing a huge population growth and it’s become harder for middle-income residents especially, to stay in Boston,” she said. “We’re trying to find solutions.”

The iLab is a collaboration between the Department of New Urban Mechanics and Department of Neighborhood Development. According to Ostberg, it blends technology, people-centered solutions, collaborators and a spirit of experimentation to find new ways of developing, funding and designing housing differently.

Mayors from across the state and country, local developers and city employees attended the event.

The projects

Christopher spoke about the iLab’s Accessory Dwelling Units pilot program in Jamaica Plain, Mattapan and East Boston. “We’re thinking of ways to increase units without changing the character of the neighborhood,” he said.

According to Christopher, accessory dwelling units are when owner-occupants carve out spaces within their homes for smaller independent rental units. Whether they are located in a basement or attic, “they have to meet building codes and align with the same fabric of housing most neighborhoods are used to. It’s not about actually putting additions on units,” he said.

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