More development in the outer neighborhoods?

John Keith considers statements out of City Hall on the need to build middle-income housing in neighborhoods not being overrun by luxury towers and conversions of old garages into condos.



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Around here?

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Probably. You can get that in the burbs depending what town and how far out you want to go, but not in the city. A lot will depend on the zoning. The higher you go the cheaper you can offer the units and still make money, but then you have to deal with the neighborhood which will push back. As I've said before - the mayor should say, for example, we need 1% growth in each neighborhood/citywide. Zone for that and you (the neighborhood representatives) figure out where it goes. Within reason the government will support what the neighborhood comes up with.

Not affordable

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$75K a year (assuming a two person household) is what many in lower-paying fields like social services will make at the apex of their career. What the city really needs is smaller (under 1000sqft) two bedroom units for $300K and under, that are affordable to households making less than $100K. Heck, even simple projects-style brick walk-ups would be sufficient as long as they're a little less bland-looking and have larger windows and balconies - I'm sure many families would be delighted to be able to buy a two bedroom condo for $250K or so instead of shelling out $1700+ in rent for a similar unit out in Hyde Park or Roslindale. That's what Boston needs if it wants to have anything resembling middle class - something that's cheap to build and cheap to buy.

My wife and I are working

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My wife and I are working class. We're just going to move. Have fun without us (the middle class).

Not in JP, anyway...

Try adding at least 100K to that figure and then you have a more realistic snapshot of what 1500 sq ft goes for in some of the outer neighborhoods.


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OFFS how about building middle income housing in the neighborhoods that ARE being overrun by nothing but high end developments

instead, the City is giving those developers wiggle room around developing affordable housing requirements while simultaneously give said developers tax breaks and sticking the rest of us with their tax bills

WTF, Marty? we busted our asses to get you elected for this?!?

Hate to break it to you but

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Hate to break it to you but that's simple economics. Some neighborhoods are so close to downtown and desirable they are only going to get more expensive. Supply is the only solution to demand,


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The BRA has the power to mandate that developers locate their affordable units in the development, rather than either paying money into the affordable housing trust fund or building elsewhere. The issue is that the BRA has not required them to do this. If they did,we would either find out that developers simply wont build downtown under those circumstances, which I find unlikely, or we would get affordable units downtown. I agree, of course, that left to the free market nothing affordable will be built downtown, as the demand for luxury is there.

Waste of money

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Why is taxpayer money being wasted on "affordable" units in those downtown luxury buildings that for the most part end up going to the kids of the well-connected? Why not mandate the developers to build REAL affordable housing (i.e. a simple 20-30 unit residential building) in neighborhoods that actually need affordable housing whenever they're constructing those 400 unit luxury towers downtown instead of forcing them to sell/rent a few luxury units way below market rate?

There's no free lunch. The

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There's no free lunch. The cost to a developer to create one "affordable" unit in a prime development could create 50 "affordable" units elsewhere in the city. This is why the BRA allows payouts for offsite units.


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My point was just that affordable housing can be built downtown, through the BRA process. If having a mix of incomes downtown is unimportant than I agree, it makes perfect sense to have the developers build developments in other parts of the city.

Mix of incomes downtown

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Isn't happening. Are you really naive enough to believe mere mortals with no connections are able to get into one of those normally $2000+/sqft affordable units? I pretty much guarantee everyone living in those units has mommy/daddy/uncle/aunt somewhere high up in the BRA or city government.


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Yes, "mere mortals" do get those units. In additon to the fact that people have posted here before who live in those units about how they just went through the (arduous) process to get them, I know people who work in affordable housing development and, indeed, regular people get those units. I would love to know the basis of your "pretty much guarantee" that this process is part of some political patronage conspiracy.

Perhaps go back to Flynn

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Keith has a point. There ain't going to be affordable housing in the Back Bay or Beacon Hill. My gut is that the city should be looking to get middle income housing in the areas that are "changing" like Southie or J.P. Maybe this is because I am an old timer, but it does sadden me to see areas that were once affordable to the middle class becoming less and less so. Nothing against the poor, who may be working poor and can be seen as poor due to our economic system (or for some other reason, don't get me wrong,) or the rich, who can be a boon to the city, but the middle class is what it is, the core, rock solid.

For all is faults, and God only knows that someone here might want to point them out, Flynn's idea of linkage helped develop affordable housing where it made sense.


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Folks, one way to help decent housing get built in outlying neighborhoods is to support local housing efforts by community development corporations. Write letters, make phone calls, bug the heck out of your elected officials. Pols listen to complaints and plaudits alike and keep score. Some of this housing, such as a new project proposed by the Southwest Boston CDC is for "workforce" residents (firefighters, teachers, nurses, etc), all valuable members of the middle class with perhaps less means than necessary to live in JP or Westwood.

Nimbyism makes it difficult to achieve any positive housing results and can forestall development for years: hardly a recipe for developing the 30,000 units Menino had envisioned...

We get what we mobilize for.

This is great, but Menino

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This is great, but Menino would also constantly say things like this and then do nothing to help it, letting neighborhood groups cut down every project to smaller, and therefore more expensive, buildings and not investing in making the city better able to handle more people by increasing pedestrian/public transit/bicycling infrastructure. Contrast with Somervilles Curatone, who got not only the green line extension many said would never happen, but an additional spur to Union Square and a new stop on the orange line. One only has to look at the silver bus in Roxbury/South End and the traffic jams in the Seaport to see the lack of planning by Menino. What is Walsh doing differently? Reducing bike parking (yesterdays article about banning locking to meters) and staying silent while the state backs out of the Allston commuter rail stop. And last week Walsh sided with South Boston residents to scale back one project, table another, and increase the parking requirements (and therefore costs) in zoning in South Boston.
Its just more of the same lip service without any follow through when it comes to being a leader.

Fairmount Line Upgrades

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Check out the Planning that has been going on along the corridor for the last two years.

Marty's plan will coincide with the planned developments within a 1/2 miles of the stops along the Fairmount Line and then if DMU's arrive on the line, development will likely explode. And this is partially along the poorest of neighborhoods with the least amount of resources to resist development.

Wishful thinking

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There won't be much of a change until crime issue is addressed, and that's not going to happen unless majority of the poor living there are displaced. Until then, it's going to be a ridiculously expensive rail line with ridiculously low ridership. As un-PC as it sounds, poor areas always have higher crime rates, and it stays that way until the poor move elsewhere and take the crime with them (i.e. what happened in JP, South End, Southie, etc.)

Fairmount Line...low ridership?

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ridden it lately? it's coming around...
if the MBCR didn't keep canceling trains it would be more reliable=more riders. It's not only un-PC (who cares?) but your statement contradicts observable facts.

Modern Somerville is

..taking housing inventory build out very seriously. It is as if it is urgent or something.

In my walk to Market Basket today there were two multi family jobs underway on Prospect and another is nearly done over on Beacon. There is a bunch of stuff underway in the maze of side streets.

The aim seems to be streamlining process to an impressive degree. Cambridge and Boston make it torture. Cambridge is at least honest.

If this type of housing is

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If this type of housing is built, will the residents require city services (primarily schools) that cost the city more than what the residents pay to the in city taxes; and if that is true where does the money come from to fill the revenue gap.
So maybe this is a more complex issue than just zoning; the city needs a local income tax.

The city paid for schools for

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The city paid for schools for over a century without one. The problem isn't revenue it is expenditures. The city is overpaying for many basic services and infrastructure. Many social services shouldn't even be the city's financial responsibility either, but the state's.

Why is the answer more taxes?

Not to paint with too broad of a brush here, but why is the answer to this question of services, seemingly always more taxes? How about using the current revenue more efficiently? I am not saying cuts across the board, but sound fiscal policy should, imo, be a combination of raising revenue and utilizing existing sources more efficiently.


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The largest cost that a Massachusetts municipality incurs is education costs. Yes, health care costs are a big part, and health care costs are going up, but even those costs are linked to personnel costs, which once again is the school system.

Stevil will note the growth of the BPS budget and claim that there are inefficiencies in the BPS, but across the Commonwealth, cities and towns are almost trying to avoid building housing for families as families, or specifically children who go to the local schools, are budget busters. Look at it this way. Say you have a town of 10,000, or 2,500 households. If you had a police force of 10 and a budget of $1,000,000, that is $400 a household. Compare that with the average per pupil costs in Massachusetts at over $13,500. Someone has to come up with that money.

Is there a way to make education more cost efficient? Is there another way to raise revenue, seeing as the Commonwealth will cut local aid when they can? Well, I don't know.

An Honest Proposal

We've all seen what private profit did to our healthcare costs, then to our higher education costs, not to mention our for-profit prison population in some areas of the country.

Instead of getting tempted to pour money into profit motive and profit centers, I have a very simple suggestion.

Legalize and tax weed. Put the money into the schools.

Would taxing weed really work?

I just picture weed as a commodity like collard greens or some other random veggie. Will enough people buy it (without some sort of tax exempt medical use) to make high taxes even work? I mean, you could have it smuggled like cigarettes, except a carton of weed should last your average pot smoker 6 months no?

If the taxes are too high, wouldn't it be cheaper to just grow it yourself and/or set up some sort of black market? The illegal system is already set up for a prime black market.

It would be interesting to see the economics of weed if you made it 100% legal. I think people over estimate the benefits of taxing weed for profit purposes.

It's not a mystery, it's

It's not a mystery, it's happening right now in Colorado. Based on what I'm read, they're selling plenty of it legally even though the high taxes make it cost more than the black-market stuff. Haven't seen any hard figures on the amount of taxes collected but it certainly seems (not surprisingly) that there are plenty of people willing to pay a premium to get it legally.

Circle of funds though......

According to your link, the funds schools get from the taxes go toward programs and treatment (and some new construction which is good). What's left to go towards what we are talking about. (Health care costs, pensions, etc)

States can decide that for themselves

Although treatment funds for addictions should be a priority, MA could choose to send it all to the schools if that's what citizens wanted.

I do like your idea of possibly funding the pension burdens with that money. That would go a long ways toward relieving municipalities of a substantial burden.

Or course, raising property taxes is always an option. MA doesn't really have high property taxes to begin with, if you compare notes with people with properties of similar value in other places. NH may not have sales or income tax, but their property tax bills are 2-3x what mine are on a similar home.

Medical marijuana tends to be

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Medical marijuana tends to be taxed, in CO it is, just at a lower rate, so I don't know where you are getting your info on tax exempt medical use.

Hate to break it to you but

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Hate to break it to you but government run healthcare, higher ed, and prisons haven't been models of fiscal integrity or efficient service providers either.

I also find it funny that you think the recreational drug trade which exists entirely by breaking the law will suddenly follow it and pay taxes to legally hang a shingle when they have been profitable thusfar without doing so. If the state/feds can't bust the trade for violating a litany of laws now how the Hell are the going to get them for a simple tax evasion?

Pull your head out

And you will realize:

1. the point where US healthcare costs spiraled out of control is the same point where countries with socialized systems acted to contain costs and the US did not.

2. the point where the US stopped helping students and started seeing them as profit centers for Wall Street with extra heaping on of consequences for default is the point where US higher education spiraled out of control

3. The point where the US started incarcerating an extreme percentage of its population compared to other countries was when for-profit prisons entered the picture

4. Colorado's legalization adventure says that you are wrong. There has been no change in the percentage of users in Colorado. There has been a huge shift to legal supply. There is also some evidence that people who were expert on the substances are now legally and gainfully employed.

Makes me wonder who you are buying your alcohol from - you might want to put some pepper on it, first.

But the tax revenues off

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But the tax revenues off cigarettes never went where they were supposed to go. The lottery money is supposed to go to schools, is it?

I'm all for legalization and taxing weed. CO is doing it but some are finding the taxes a bit much, so of course they can easily grow their own.

Maybe it's just time for fiscal responsibility.

Maybe it's just time for

Maybe it's just time for fiscal responsibility.

Wow, great idea. I never thought of that. I had no idea it was that easy!

Who says profit

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The reality is that we need to find a way to set up the educational system so that building 3 bedroom houses doesn't raise a stink for the $27,000 in costs the 2 kids will bring to the system. Perhaps funding it independently of property tax. I hate to say this one, but perhaps rethinking special needs- I don't have a clue how to do it, and any possible idea I can come up with would be bad even to me.

$13,500 per student. About 1 million kids between the ages of 5 and 18 in the Commonwealth. Yes, there is a group of kids not in the public school system, but that's a lot of weed.

Some cost more some cost less

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Catholic schools (definitely not for profit) and charter schools (some for profit, some not) have lower costs. Straight up private schools (see Milton Academy, Windsor School, Roxbury Latin) have higher costs.

I'm not saying anything about the per pupil education costs, and you notice I used the statewide figure to ferret out any differences between cities, suburbs, rural areas, and other demographic differences. I'm just commenting on costs going up and how when it comes to development, communities would prefer commercial first (no new people but boatloads of new tax revenue), senior housing second (new people with some needs), family housing last mainly due to education costs. It's not me, it's the way it is.

As for special ed, again, I'm not even going to propose a solution. Kids with true special needs need to be helped now, else they will be an economic drain down the road. In one way it is quite cost effective to help out when they are young, but the town won't be dealing with the costs of doing nothing, the higher levels of government will. The tragedy would be these kids falling through the cracks, but still, who should pay?

Maybe I'm mis understanding

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Maybe I'm mis understanding here but catholic schools have lower costs? I'm not sure whose costs you're speaking of, the local town/city has no obligation to catholic schools. Isn't it a win/win for the city/town for every kid that goes to catholic school? That family still supports the public school system, but is not using it. And, not like a voc or charter, its a freebie for the town/city, that kid is not part of their budget.

And, as a parent let me tell you it can be quite costly. Over 12k for a year of high school, elementary ran about $2800.

But I'd do it again in a hearbeat.

I was commenting on Swirly's

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I was commenting on Swirly's contention that private schools were costlier than private schools. Now, I am not advocating that the private sector take over the role of public education, or any public service, just noting that the costs are lower. I have found it ironic that government will not provide aid to Catholic schools even though the Catholic education system has saved the government a boatload over the years. The irony is that has the out of pocket costs of a Catholic school education has gone up, parents have been moving their kids to public schools (and hopefully to CCD, but that's another topic) thereby putting more of a financial burden on the municipalities.

For the record (as I misread your comment earlier) and as an example, Sacred Heart in Roslindale charges $4,600 and Catholic Memorial High School charges $16,750 a year, making the average cost $9183 (weighted 8/4, though if I factor kindergarten it gets lower.)

Our predecessors kicked the can down the road

One reason that we get less for more is that, 75 years ago, the bulk of a municipality's budget went to pay the salaries of people who did things for the municipality: teach school, fight fires, etc.

Now, a huge part of a municipality's budget goes to paying the pensions and medical benefits of people who used to do things for the municipality: retired schoolteachers, retired firefighters, etc.

Previous generations of municipal government made promises that didn't come due until way down the road ("OK, 30 year old firefighter, when you retire, we'll pay you X per year pension and cover 80% of all your medical expenses) and then made no provision to pay for them, simply sticking us with the bill.

We're pretty well hosed: You can't just up and screw the people who put in a lifetime of service and who are legally and ethically entitled to what we promised and they earned. So, until we start setting aside the money to cover the promises we've made, at the time we make them, we're just going to perpetuate this broken system. The tough medicine to swallow will be that, for a while, until we pay off the promises that our predecessors made, we're going to be shelling out a lot of money, only some of which goes to pay for services we're receiving.

Makes you wonder...

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With all of this why the city thinks it can hand out tax breaks. Not just these proposed breaks , but all the recent ones including (especially?) the most recent for John Rosenthal. I don't have a problem with the project - actually generally like it. However, the tax break has to be the go/no go factor in the project before granting it under the law. Mr. Rosenthal signed "under the pains and penalties of perjury" that he needed it or his financing walks which is pretty much impossible to believe that a $550 million project lives or dies on a tax break of a few hundred thousand a year for a handful of years. But our estimable City Council voted unanimously to support it. My guess is laws were even broken in the process, but I don't see Coakley going after anyone like Rosenthal (or Jeremy Jacobs or Bob Beal or State Street Bank or JP Morgan or Vertex or Liberty Mutual) for fraud while running for governor, so we are stuck with the bills running literally into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There isn't a problem with

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There isn't a problem with tax breaks to project's like Rosenthal's. You take a property that isn't currently generating taxes (like his non-existent highway deck) and get the promise of future tax revenue in exchange for a few years more of no revenue. It would be one thing if these types of projects happened on their own, but there hasn't been a decking project since Copley Place.

Fraud is not a problem?

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The law very clearly states that the aid must be necessary and without it the project would not happen. I highly doubt that a $4 million tax break on a project expected to generate well over $3 billion in pre-financing profits (before adjusting for inflation) amounts to a hill of beans. However, Mr. Rosenthal signed a legal document to that effect in order to obtain the break. My guess is that if the state ever took a look at the numbers Mr. Rosenthal is sending to his financial partners, that $4 million isn't even a tiny fraction of a rounding error. The legality of the break has zero to do with the merits of the project or new taxes to be generated. The law was actually designed for affordable housing projects that truly are on the margin, but the BRA has bastardized it into "tips" for the 1%. And sadly we don't have a law enforcement officer in the state willing to look at that even though Menino has used this law to give away hundreds of millions to well connected developers (and I hope this is the last time Mayor Walsh does this).

The road ends at the feet of

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The road ends at the feet of Coakley and she isn't interested in enforcing the law unless it personally benefits her. Notice how every major corruption probe in this state has had to come from the Feds?

Until we get a real AG interested in doing the job more so than using it as a political stepping stone nothing will change.

The pensions are mostly a state system.

But the health care is costly. Interestingly enough, unions used to give up 10-20% of health care costs for fractions of a percentage raise back in the 1980s and even 1990s. That's how much health care costs have risen in the last 20 years.

Perhaps you know better

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Since you work for the city - but I thought all Boston Pensions were from the Boston Pension fund except the teachers. Teachers in most (all?) other communities have a state fund, but Boston teachers have their own.

Interesting footnote to my point above - the BRA gave State Street a tax break to move to South Boston a couple of years ago while they were under investigation for defrauding both the state and city pension fund. Perhaps more interesting, I think this was contingent on certain employment levels. State Street is in the process of laying off at least 400 people. Wonder if anyone is following up on that?

Overall budget yes

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Still, that $13,500 per pupil doesn't count retiree costs, which are budgeted separately (yes, I once claimed the system was self funding, and I was wrong, but now I know where the budget item is.)

Medical costs going forward for retirees should be lessened, as they are getting shunted to Medicare. Of course, retirement can be reformed, and not in the radical ways some people want it to be reformed, but the political will isn't there.

single-payer healthcare and/or controlled healthcare costs...

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health care is something like 11-12% of the city's budget and increasing (not to mention pension funds would be self-sufficient without healthcare costs). roll this into income tax (and simplify the process to doctors to reduce their overhead costs) and suddenly a bunch of municipalities and state agencies have a lot more wiggle-room.

BPS has the largest number of city employees, so this would be a huge savings.

So you expect the same

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So you expect the same administrative people which can't keep costs down running schools (let alone keep fresh food in the cafeterias) are going to keep costs down running their own healthcare scheme?