Mayor wants thousands of housing units built near the T

The city of Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development has filed legislation (sponsored by Mattapan's State Rep. Russell Holmes) that would allow the MBTA to sell land along its rail lines to developers at discounted rates, according to Scott Van Voorhis at the Globe. A second proposal would allow the city to offer property tax incentives to developers in order to encourage them to build housing affordable to those with low and/or moderate incomes.

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MBTA

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Brilliant idea to have the cash-strapped MBTA to sell its land for pennies on the dollar.

I mean, it could be a boon to those trying to spend less of their paycheck on housing--and developers--but at what cost to the MBTA? Does selling the land for market value, and building market-rate units really hurt those looking for fairly-priced housing? I would think increasing the housing supply means less of an opportunity for landlords to price gouge for units which haven't been updated since Nixon was in office (*cough* my former landlord *cough*). And the MBTA would benefit as well since they're not, after all, selling their land at discounted rates.

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Rent control in Massachusetts

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Rent control in Massachusetts was abolished by voters 20+ years ago. Walsh is trying to bring it back by creating more "affordable housing" which is the same as rent control.

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Sweet jeebus--it is NOT the same.

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Rent control put all of the burden on the landlord. And honestly, I never understood how rent controlled apartments were allocated or changed hands. The people that I knew who had them were distinctly educated, professional folks, mostly childless, who happened to have stumbled onto a good thing--there didn't seem to be a lot of social or economic justice involved. Luck and connections on the other hand played a huge role.

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good point

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When it comes to Boston politicians and real estate development deals, we have to be especially skeptical. Menino ran it like he was the godfather: be his friend, and you got sweet favor deals on the public dime; not be his friend, and you got screwed over.

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My worry

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And hate on me for this, but whatever...
Why I voted for Connolly is because I didn't trust Walsh's close ties to the area unions (and I felt that the BPS would never improve under his watch). The tinfoil hat-wearing side of me just sees this as a move toward guaranteeing money (er, work) for his actual constituents by effectively funneling it out of the MBTA, and to his unions via no-bid "discounted" sales to contractors that will employ their services. At the end of the day, the Carmen's union likely won't be hurt, but the losses will be heaped onto the taxpayer via selling off a financially-troubled state company's assets at a bargain rate.

It's debatable that we should be talking about selling government land to private parties. And in no way, shape, or form should it be discussed selling these properties to private entities at a discount. Harkening back to my teens and the ever-present "Privitization: A Weld Scam" bumper stickers, I don't see this as any better.

Tinfoil hat now removed, I think this could have been a well-intentioned idea, and only meant to improve the lives of the middle class in the city, but it appears to be a pretty hare-brained way of achieving the goal. At the end of the day, Boston needs to increase its number of housing units in order to lower the equilibrium price, and I don't think it needs to do so by selling valuable, MBTA-owned land. Perhaps we can roll back some of the NIMBYism that seems to make high-rises few and far between, and force area universities to supply more dorms (hello, NEU).

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valuable, MBTA-owned land

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valuable, MBTA-owned land

In what way is the land valuable right now? Is the T gaining income from it today? In fact, until now the land has been worthless.

And if they sell it at market rate, why should the new owner give up a cent of profit on the resale? Sale at below market rate is meant to leverage the so-called 'affordable' resale/leasing rate.

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Wouldn't the best solution be

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Wouldn't the best solution be for the MBTA to retain ownership of its land and enter into private-public partnerships for the development and management, in return for discounted rent to whoever wants to run these things? Honestly I'm fine with buildings built on top of a T station not being affordable -- that location is an absolute premium and if they build "luxury" units on them it would make an absolute killing for an agency that desperately needs some cash flow. **Eventually** the glut of luxury units is going to cause prices to fall when they meet the end of their available market. It just hasn't yet because the built up demand is that bad.

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The MBTA can't even manage

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The MBTA can't even manage security and maintenance in a parking garage(s) here on the North Shore. It's a nice thought, but a dream.

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annnd....

It's a good plan to say screw the affordable housing when it will provide super-convenient housing for Olympic goers who will pay astronomical rents.

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MBTA Should Lease Land

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It would do the MBTA a lot better if instead of selling it at a discount to politically connected developers if instead the legislation allowed the MBTA to lease the land long-term to developers and collect royalty payments on it.

That's how Japan's rail lines make most of their money - real estate. And they don't suck. And they make a profit.

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Lease land, yes, and more

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It is about more than the revenue from the lease. The MBTA should retain control, ground leases, if anything, because the MBTA is a state agency that can override local snob zoning. The reason why railroads in Japan do so well is not just because they own the land around their stations, but because they put it to good use, generating high ridership through proper development of housing and business. Japanese land use laws are supportive of that, unlike here, where we often waste the land next to transit stations on terrible uses such as vacant lots, ill-placed parking lots, and dumps. By contrast, in Japan, transit stations are the hearts of neighborhoods, places where almost all the local community members pass by on their daily business, even if they're not riding the trains or buses. New England had developed that way too, with most of the nineteenth century town centers being based around a railroad station.

This will presumably not be an issue in Boston, where Marty Walsh would obviously want to control what goes on the land, and hopefully what he wants is good for the city (mid-range housing options, commerce, etc). The mayor's office can overrule the existing snob zoning ordinances written by elitists who have wanted to see Boston turned into a landscape of single-family houses that only millionaires could ever afford.

But! Land next to MBTA stations will be "transit-adjacent" for a lot longer than Marty will be around, no matter how long he manages to stay in office. The Commonwealth should see it as a priority to ensure that the transit-adjacent land is put to its best use now and forever, something that might be difficult if the equivalent of, say, Rob Ford ever gets elected here.

And there's plenty of MBTA stations that are not in Boston. The legislature should be thinking about the other towns and cities. Some of them have done a good job of preparing reasonable land use plans. Others have not, and have purposefully tried to destroy housing opportunities near transit because of a combination of snobbery, exclusion, and an attempt to create implicit segregation. By maintaining state control of land, we can combat this kind of bad behavior that profits a select few at the expense of everyone else.

Towns and cities that prepare reasonable plans for transit-adjacent land can largely be left to their own devices, but the towns and cities that are hostile to transit use should not be allowed to screw up the MBTA. Why should the rest of the Commonwealth pay big money to run transit to them, if they won't even return the courtesy of letting people live and work next to the stations?

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Matthew, yes, lease it out!

I love the idea of the T leasing out that land for housing.

First, as we have all seen, just about any housing that is walking distance to a T station has become desirable. Prices have risen and apartments are converting to condos near T stops.

By leasing this land, it pretty much guarantees that it will remain rental housing, and the T can have a hand in determining affordability. This will help offset at least a little of the rental housing lost to condo conversion

Because we're not talking about mammoth parcels being leased, the negative impact on local housing value will not be much, or at all. Everyone with property convenient to the T still will have property convenient to the T.

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Already happening

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The Green Line Woodland station already has condos on it. These were built within the last ten years. Supposedly there was some development planned for Riverside but nothing seems to be happening there. There is already housing all along the rest of the Riverside line. I'm not familiar with every single inch of the MBTA, but development would seem to limited along subway lines in this area.

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There's others

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I'm not familiar with every single inch of the MBTA, but development would seem to limited along subway lines in this area.

Not to get into a big transit discussion however..

I think the thought is stations with larger pieces of un-used like Wellington's parking lot (which may eventually become a new bus garage) and air rights over the shops OR Sullivan's large parking lot and bus loop OR the parking garage and TOD around Alewife.

Or smaller spots like the lot next to the lot next to Malden Center (and over the bus loop), or building on the plaza at Porter.. or hell, the actually station at Davis. (the bus loop side). or, even better, over the tracks themselves in many places. Or just about anything that is a very creative use of small spots of land the MBTA owns.

And of course I'm not even thinking about the south side of the system and I know places along the Braintree branch have many spots that could very much be redeveloped into high density TOD developments. And then let's not forget about the commuter rail along with non-transit/TOD properties the MBTA owns (i.e. shops, layover facilities, bus garages, etc etc) , that in itself would open up many, many spaces for development. The MBTA just owns a TON of land.

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Very interesting idea

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The devil's in the details - but that sounds like it makes a lot of sense. One thing that would also be necessary would be increasing zoning around these locations which could also be used to raise the amounts they can lease for. As usual, that will and should be a discussion between the neighborhoods, the city and the T.

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Makes it ok

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To push the lower and middle class out of the City, building high end luxury condos. Then throw them a bone by saying you can't live in the Seaport area but you can live next to the train tracks. This City sucks.

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Oh boo hoo.

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Look--I'm as fed up as the next guy about "luxury condos" but clue in--a lot of people WANT to be living next to the train tracks, as you put it. Being near transportation is so crucial, especially for families, so maybe you can live without the huge expense of a car or, God forbid, two cars. I think this is a great idea, especially if the T can actually make some money off it.

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This city

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gets a lot of things wrong, but concentrating luxury apts in an area without any of the amenities that families need and building housing (and hopefully more affordable housing) with easy access to rapid transit is damn good idea.

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Good for the Mayor

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The cost of housing for lower income people is a major problem here that needs addressing. Boston has come a long way in the past 20-30 years but now all that success(and zoning laws that prohibit higher densities) has priced out an entire sector of workers from finding affordable places to live. A major effort is needed and I'm very happy the mayor wants to take action. Start with underutilized areas like Sullivan Square, which fortunately has few rich neighbors to complain about high rises. In fact, the plans are already set. The only things needed are money and will. Here is the BRA study. http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/getattachment/60148791-0d78-...

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Then there is that new casino...

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...anticipating an additional 10k new vehicle trips per day through the square. Boston got the shaft on that deal, especially Sullivan Square and Charlestown.

So much for planning. :(

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Government needs to get out

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Government needs to get out of the affordable housing business. Once enough market rate housing is available, vacancies go up and rents go down.
Building affordable housing sounds politically correct, but there will never be enough, just a larger burden on the state for more handouts.
The laws in effect now allow builders to bypass regulations to build affordable housing.
This is essentially giving the builder free money. I'll sell way more units than I normally could and leave the state the burden of supporting what I leave behind.
Change the rules. If you're going to override and build under the affordable rules, you have to create other commercial space within 10 miles with enough job opportunities to offset the additional families. The problem is, many retail stores will soon be closing. Manufacturing is floundering. We're not helping these people, just warehousing them.

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Don't call it "affordable" with lowercase "a"

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Call it "Affordable Housing". I really think a lot of voters are still confused when politicians say "affordable housing", and think it's housing that is more affordable to the middle class. I suspect that the confusion was the original intent when the term was coined.

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Dear thezak

I bet you know how to Google(TM) as well or better than anyone else here. Why don't you try it -- and if the results of your search are useful, share them.

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Or better yet

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The Great and General Court's website.

Of course, that is given with the understanding that government works slow, so the text might be sitting in the box of the Clerk of the House. Even though Rep. Holmes probably typed up the bill on a computer, it probably has to be retyped by someone in the Clerk's Office before it is put on the website.

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