City to invest $3 million to preserve triple deckers

Over the weekend, the mayor announced a grant and loan program for people who either already own one of the iconic buildings or who want to buy one. Participants in the 3D program can also get discounts at local hardware stores and sign up for classes on maintaining the buildings.

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so rents are skyrocketing and they're giving landlords another

...freebie? Because this doesn't do anything for condo owners or anyone else that can't afford to own the entire building.

Nevermind that instead of encouraging the raizing of ancient, unsafe, horribly-inefficient, grandfathered-to-wazoo buildings for energy efficient, modern buildings - we're just going to give slumlords another handout so they can keep these leech properties around and milk them for more cash?

Factually incorrect

From the City's website on the program:

If you’re already an owner of a triple-decker or a condominium unit within one, we want to help you celebrate the versatility and longevity of these fantastic properties.

Erm...

1. By Boston standards or most people's, a 100-year-old building is not "ancient."
2. There's nothing inherently "unsafe" about the design of a three-decker. Isn't increased maintenance a huge step in making these buildings safer in terms of say, fire safety or shoring up old porches, etc.?
3. What is "inefficient" about a three-decker? As far as I've ever heard, they're a pretty efficient home design compared to say, most free-standing single families.

As to slumlords...you're welcome to your opinion of course, but three deckers have always seemed more likely to be owned and lived in by extended families or small-scale landlords. Until recently, the three-deckers always seemed like a good entry into home ownership--live in one, rent the others, have a little flexibility. I just don't understand the weird vitriol in your post--I mean "leech properties?" You somehow think that owning a brick rowhouse or a commercial property makes you less of a leech? And no, I don't own a three-decker--wish I did.

Don't mind him

Likely a developer/speculator. Will cry and moan if every building in Boston isn't Trilogy and then cries and moans when nobody buys what the pre-fabs like Toll Brothers and Archstone are selling. Oddly, some people still want character in places they live and don't want to be shoved into the real estate equivalent of a pile of lockers at a bus station.

The developments have their place, and that place is way the hell downtown, in old West End, near the Garden and around Chinatown/Suffolk. The areas where triple deckers are plentiful still have plenty of demand for them. Frankly, I'm glad the city's finally following Chicago's lead and helping landlords update the housing stock. The more wooden decks updated to steel frame, the more steel single-pane windows replaced for more weatherproof options and the more optimization of basement and trapped dwelling space the better. When JP, Dorchester and Southie look like Chicago's Ukranian Village in a few years, those same developers won't have a leg to stand on.

Balloon-framing

Many, maybe most or even all, older triple-deckers feature wood balloon-framing, which is inherently less safe than more modern framing methods because it gives an unimpeded path for fire to spread quickly up all three storeys, creating a chimney effect. That can be mitigated to some extent by installing fire stops but it will never be as safe as more modern buildings.

Fireproofing

With properly added firebreaks balloon framing can be just as safe as any "modern" platform-frame construction. In fact, it's still used in some new construction, in buildings with 2 story spaces and/or exterior brick-veneer, which doesn't tolerate the settling of platform-frame construction well. Fire-blocking can even be done while insulating walls by putting cementitious foam or mineral wool in the wall cavities, especially near the top and bottom of each floor. As for "modern methods", many houses built after the mid-1970s have trusses and/or OSB I-beams in the roofs and floors; these buildings can be just as dangerous as triple-deckers; some of them literally disintegrate a few minutes after a fire has started, though they could also be fireproofed if anyone cared enough to do so. The most fire-resistant wood-framed houses are "Leave it to Beaver" era tract houses with low ceilings, dimensional lumber and thick-plastered interiors.

Balloon Construction

Is inherently unsafe. So is packing so many wooden structures with wood siding and flammable roofing to a block that fire can jump easily from one to another.

Efficiency

Three deckers don't have to be decrepit or inefficient, but many of them are. The balloon framing from which they were usually built allows much more air circulation in the walls than most other types of construction. This keeps the wall dry and more resistant to siding-related moisture problems but it makes the interior finish the only real insulation layer. Properly insulating these buildings can mitigate the fire risk and bring them up to the efficiency standards of any other building. But the exterior envelope must effectively keep most water out and allow what does get in to drain in order to keep most types of insulation from getting waterlogged and rotting the framing. I can see why these buildings sometimes become blighted, since they are inherently more prone to disputes over noise and the use of common spaces than row houses; a resident owner with the authority to keep the other two unit occupants in line seems like a better model than a three member "condo association". But they can be beautiful on both the inside and outside if properly preserved. Cities should allow only fire-resistant sidings like fiber-cement and treated wood; vinyl siding not only makes these buildings more likely to burn, it's so ugly that it makes it less likely that they will be missed when they do burn.

First, this program has a

First, this program has a owner-occupied requirement, so it does not appear to be aimed at absentee slumlords.

Second, new construction is immensely energy intensive and all of the inputs need to be considered when evaluating the total carbon footprint of a project. Also, the program appears to include a Renew Boston energy audit to help owners evaluate and upgrade the inefficiency of homes purchased or improved with the help of this program.

Finally, there is an income restriction on this program so, for better or for worse, real estate moguls need not apply.

anything but beige

Maybe some of those funds can go towards teaching people that vinyl siding is ugly no matter how realistic a salesperson tells you it looks, and that beige or some plale-hued equivalent is not attractive. Let's un-beige Boston!

/Rant.
//That's just my personal taste.
///I don't actually believe owners should be told what colors they can use.

Here in JP

we have quite a bit of purple and green along with the usual bland pale blue and beige vinyl siding and the more traditional brown and yellow or tan and white. I'd definitely give an extra subsidy for owners who choose brilliant and tasteful color schemes.

I know. I lived in JP nine years

I like that aspect of JP and how differences are celebrated there. I live in Lynn, now. We've have an eclectic bunch in downtown Lynn making some noise, but bland seems to rule the day up here save for some nicely restored victorians in the Highlands and Diamond District areas. Actually, anyone who remembers JP in the 90's would recognize it instantly in Lynn's Highlands. It has that kind of look/feel, that kind of potential if the right investors come in.

What I'm complaining about, I suppose, is that there's still too much beige here. The storefronts of my building were just painted two-tone beige from black and blue-grey, and now my halls are being painted beige.. and so I'm just lashing out in frustration.

Plus, my old Brighton apartment before then.. beige siding, beige carpets inside, off white walls.. how that's ever considered neutral and safe I'll never know..it made me fall asleep once on the way to my kitchen.

When you leave the hip parts of town, you find faded greens, pale blues, and beige, except for the old tar siding which I think is also flammable? It makes for a dreary scene in the winter.

Agree completely.

And yet there are some great old buildings in Lynn and maybe with the influx of artists and creative types, there will be more blues and purples and sage greens and less...beige. I agree totally--beige is death. Though I once came home to find that my enterprising and usually very tasteful neighbor had painted our entire hallway--walls, trim, everything--an intense eggplant purple. We had to nip that one in the bud.

Preservation?

I'm not sure what needs preserving... The triple deckers are being condo-ized right and left, which is preservation in and of itself. Do we really have instances where a 3D was town down to build something else that we need this 'preservation' money?

Torn down? No

But do deck collapses and fires become more common when these places aren't updated? Absolutely.

This seems like a measure to help owners get buildings up to snuff. Helping owners replace decking, install insulation, replace inefficient windows and upgrade plumbing and wiring not only makes these places safer, but more inhabitable for the next person who comes along.

I was really impressed when Chicago did something similar a few years back after a deadly porch collapse. You should see the three-families there now: Wrought-iron frames for the decking, updated climate control, insulation and windows, solar power in some cases. Lovely places to live. I wouldn't discourage something similar here. Some of our triple deckers are lucky if they get a coat of paint every so often.

Let's just say that

I trust what I see with my own (flawed) eyes more than everything I read in the NYT. That article also throws a pretty wide net--I have no idea what's going on in Lynn or New Bedford but I just didn't see a too-convincing argument that there's something special about three-deckers that made them more "endangered" except that they're older housing stock, were built for working-class folks and are therefore more likely to be in neighborhoods that are still working/middle class and harder hit by the financial crisis.

$3 million doesn't sound like a whole lot to me compared to the costs of building brand new housing, razing condemned buildings, or coping with the damage to neighborhoods when things really start to fall apart. Or the loss in tax revenue for that matter.

Loss in tax revenue?

What loss in tax revenue?

I agree with the comment above - for a city in a perpetual state of financial distress (chortle, chortle), the city seems to be able to find money every time they need it for something that makes the mayor look good. The press release reads like a campaign flyer. The parks department hasn't had a material increase in its budget for 10 years, they keep threatening to shut down libraries and the BTU is clawing at them for more money for the teachers which they say they don't have and they find $3 million for this? Seriously?

Programs like this are a boon

Programs like this are a boon to neighborhoods like mine where there are a lot of long-time multi-family/3 decker owners who would love to fix and do upgrades, but don't have bottomless pockets. Retrofitting and repairing these old buildings is expensive. Many of my neighbors took advantage of Renew Boston to insulate and make repairs and alterations to boost energy efficiency. We even had one home able to install solar panels. The rest of us, in the late 19th century homes, used finally got badly needed insulation, venting, and air sealing done.

Unfortunately, my home is not a triple decker. So I lose out, but many homes in my neighborhood qualify, and it will be great to see some of those homes repaired and upgraded.

Bottom line is the infusion of cash into existing homes through these programs improves the look, morale, safety, and property values in the neighborhood. Everyone benefits from those things, not just the homeowners who take advantage of the money.