BRA approves new West End tower

Garden Garage tower

Architect's rendering.

The BRA board yesterday approved a 44-story apartment building behind the Boston Garden over the objection of neighboring residents worried about traffic.

The proposed $350-million Garden Garage building will have roughly 470 apartments and 775 parking spaces in an underground garage. As concessions, Equity Residential will increase its original $6.8-milion contribution to the BRA's affordable-housing fund to $8 million and will throw $1 million at traffic improvements in the area around North Station - which is experiencing a building boom.

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Out of curiosity

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What is considered affordable housing in Boston now?

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My guess...

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Seemingly, any residential space that can be occupied by a $100,000 minimum annual salary is an "affordable" one.

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Affordable, as you know

Affordable can mean anything from 20-80 percent of AMI, most of the time. The Boston Redevelopment Authority's program targets those making 70-100% of AMI, offering "middle-income" housing opportunities. (From their website.)

As many know on this board, there are differing levels of what is considered "affordable housing". Most of the time, the numbers are tied to AMI - that's area median income. Not "Boston", not "average", not "earnings". Area, which I'm not sure but could be as small as Suffolk County or as large as our MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), which runs from Quincy to New Hampshire. Median is considered better by some because average can be skewed by those at the higher end. The AMI is for "households", not individuals or families (although you can be a household of 1 person).

New condo and apartment projects that cannot be built "as of right" are required to pay into the city's IDP fund - inclusionary development policy fund, which collects "fees" from developers. "As of right" means a project is within zoning regulations. Almost all large projects need zoning relief. In exchange for the city allowing a developer to build taller / denser than zoning allows, the developer pays into the IDP fund.

The IDP is managed by the BRA - the Boston Redevelopment Authority. As of now, I think it has around $58 million in funds collected over the years from developers. Over time, it's supposed to use those funds to build (or, really, "help build") housing in Boston.

Developers can fulfill the IDP requirements by building units onsite, in their projects, offsite, at other projects, or they can pay into the city's "inclusionary fund". Most of the time, developers can make more money by paying into the city's fund, because they can sell their units onsite for a lot more than what they'll get from the affordable units onsite. Big developers are required to include as many as 15% of their onsite units as "affordable" (the percentage recently changed). The developer contributes around $250,000 if it wants to pay into the city's fund. Considering that it costs any (any) developer around $400,000 to build one (one) unit of housing in downtown Boston (apartment, condo), you can see why they want to pay into the city's fund rather than build onsite. The city recently upped the dollar amount that a developer has to pay in to the IDP fund, the idea being, maybe more developers would consider building the affordable units onsite.

Keep in mind, those who buy or rent the "affordable" units in those buildings aren't getting their homes for free, of course. They just end up paying a lot less. And, they have to qualify to buy or rent there, by making less than the typical renter / buyer in Boston. That's where the "affordability" comes in to play.

100% AMI is currently: $68,950 for a household of one, $78,800 for a household of two (say, two married or unmarried partners), and $98,500 for a household of four (as if those exist any more! lol). This according to the BRA's website.

http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/housing/income-price-limits

What I don't know is, how does a developer decide what levels of "affordability" to include in a development - pretty much, under 50% AMI (my estimate) is considered "low" income and there are separate programs to help build housing for residents who qualify. You won't see too many "luxury" projects offering housing to those, but that's not necessarily the developer trying to keep the poor away - the BRA is there every step of the way and knows what it's doing.

The BRA says that most BRA opportunities "are available to households which earn between 70% and 100% of area median income (AMI)".

I don't know what people at 50-70% of AMI do in a typical situation.

So, the buyers / renters make less than everyone else, which is swell, but how can they afford those high rents and condo prices? Well, the apartments and the condominiums are offered to them at prices lower than market value. For example, if a developer builds 100 condo units, 15 of those will be "affordable" units, to be sold to those making, for example, 70% of AMI. A single person making 70% of AMI is making $48,250. The developer would have to offer a one-bedroom condo at $148,000. (Developers are required to offer a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units - I believe the developer has to offer 15% of square footage, not # of units, but I dunno.) If it was an apartment building, the developer would offer a one-bedroom apartment at $1,246.

The tenant or buyer only has to qualify once - there are no annual check-ins to see if a renter, for example, suddenly gets a promotion or gets married. If it's a condo, the owner can sell the unit at any time, but the new buyer has to also qualify as an affordable buyer. The seller can't sell the unit at market value; the price is set by the BRA, something like a 5% profit and that's it.

As an aside, the new "100% affordable" project on Beverly Street being built by Related-Beal is an unusual situation. The description of it as "100% affordable" is a bit of a stretch. And, unfortunately, it's a deal that would be very hard to replicate in any meaningful number.

There are 239 apartment units. The land is being leased by the developer from MassDOT, which owns the "land" (land being made when the Central Artery was depressed). I believe the lease is $12 million for 99 years, which is below market rate. The project includes a 220-key hotel, which helps mitigate the costs to the developer, and it includes a 220-car parking garage. The developer, Related-Beal, isn't offering its buyers at its project across the street parking in their building, so it will be selling parking spaces int he Beverly Street project to those owners (presumably for prices at $75,000 - $100,000, and beyond?). That helps with the cost, too.

Now, Related-Beal won't have to pay into the city of Boston's IDP fund since its project is 100% affordable. In addition, the funds it is required to pay for its other project on Beverly Street will go into this 239 apartment unit building. Also, money from the city of Boston's IDP fund that other developers have paid in will be used, some of that $58 million the BRA has collected over the years.

The 239 apartment units will be offered to residents making "30 percent area median income (AMI) to up to 165 percent AMI" according to press releases.

The BRA says that, overall, 1,600 units of "affordable housing" have been created under the IDP during the past ten years.

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One thing to add: non-rental

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One thing to add: non-rental "Affordable" units are awarded by lottery to their first owner, but subsequent owners are usually a young professional (like a doctor doing a residence in brain surgery) or a trust fund kid, because they can submit the offer with the quickest closing date backed by a condition-free mortgage preapproval while still complying with the income limits.

Affordable units in this building might sell for $200k for a 1-bedroom condo. Identical market-rate units might sell for $500k. If your income is between $70k and $100k you'd be too rich for an Affordable unit and too poor for a market rate unit.

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Medical Students in Affordable Units

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I had heard of this anecdotally, and your description rings true.

This needs to change. The units should be resold via a lottery as well. It wouldn't be hard, just add a deed restriction and start up a list.

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Someone with an Income of

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Someone with an Income of anything below $70k annually will be accepted into a low income unit.
These are today’s standard for low income housing all over the state.

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470 apartments and 775

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470 apartments and 775 parking spaces

Next to North Station?

What is this Houston?

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To be fair

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This replaces the ~800 space (?) Garden Garage, so it's a net reduction in parking spaces.

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Ugh.

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Yeah, it's not like the building is literally adjacent to the transit hub serving two major subway lines and every rail station in metro north and west.

Do you think it's the same NIMBYs who are worried about added congestion, who are also insisting that the BRA mandate 1.7 parking spaces per new unit? Do you think they see any cause and effect?

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Do you think you could

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Do you think you could educate yourself prior to sounding off:
"The NPC Project will replace the existing 650-space garage with a new approximately 830-space underground parking garage.
Parking will be available for residential, employee, and public use, resulting in a net increase of approximately 180 spaces from the existing garage.
The approximately 180 new parking spaces for the approximately 470 residential units correspond to a parking ratio of 0.38 spaces per unit."

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The new building has less

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The new building has less parking than before and the addition of much more housing that would create even more demand. A lot of people who live near transit also keep cars around. The city needs parking, no matter how much you want to complain about it.

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People keep cars even if they

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People keep cars even if they don't need them, and the developer already included some parking. Arguing for less parking is not representative of prior developments.

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Add this to the List of

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Add this to the List of Reasons the MBTA Should Improve Its Embarrassing Existence.

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Great news.

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Great news.

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Excellent

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It is nice to finally see the BRA to get one right!!!

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rendering lies

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I love how renders make buildings look translucent.

I am not against this building, but it certainly isn't a gossamer curtain 'twixt here and the heavens.

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It's reflective, not

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It's reflective, not translucent. (Look carefully and you'll notice whereas there are ghostly buildings and trees on the surface of the building, the cabling of the Zakim isn't visible on it; it would be if they were trying to make things behind it visible through it.)

Although, the translucent/reflective optical illusion exists IRL just as much as it does in this picture; take a look at the Hancock some time.

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