Council to study how to hold back wave of gentrification now breaking over Roxbury

The City Council today approved holding a hearing to figure out ways to keep longtime Roxbury residents from being forced out of their homes as developers increasingly snap up local parcels.

Councilor Kim Janey (Roxbury) said housing prices in Roxbury rose at twice the rate of the rest of the city between 2010 and 2015 and that she now regularly hears from constituents who are being forced to move, either from apartments or because the only affordable homes they can find are in places such as Randolph or Brockton.

In seeking to avoid what happened in other neighborhoods, such as South Boston and Chinatown, she said Roxbury is particularly vulnerable to gentrification because some 81% of its residents are renters, rather than homeowners.

Janey said she wants to look at "new and innovative ways" to create more affordable housing so that longtime residents can stay even as new people move in - as well as looking at just what "affordable" means in a city like Boston.

She said she also wants to look at possibly tying new property-tax income to affordable housing creation. For example, she said the new One Dalton tower in the Back Bay will mean $10 million a year in new tax revenue. "That's 1,000 affordable units," she said.



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PDF icon Janey's formal hearing request103.98 KB


Don't blame her for sticking up for her neighborhood

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If it's a concern in Roslindale (and it is), maybe ask your district councilor why he (or she, if you're in that part of the neighborhood tied to Dorchester because God forbid Roslindale have just one councilor) isn't doing more.


Parkway, it is the same

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Parkway, it is the same reason why they couldn’t stop gentrification in Southie, the North End or Charlestown. Those councilors couldn’t play the race card, Janey can play it over and over.


I think she needs remedial math

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Like pretty much all the councilors - but consider - how is $10 million in new taxes 1000 new affordable units?

that comes to $10,000 per unit - even if that's what an affordable unit rents for - that likely wouldn't even pay the interest on constructing a new affordable unit.

And these are the people we trust the budget to - sheesh!

I saw this coming a few months ago - dropped friends off who pointed out where their new condo was being constructed on the west side of Mass Ave - near Dudley - for almost $1 million.


What's the annual buy-down on

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What's the annual buy-down on a Section 8 rental unit? Could be $800/mo ~= $10,000 yr. Seems a bit light, but perhaps not by a factor of two.

Not Section 8

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Someday, somebody will start asking what we're actually doing to increase the amount of housing for the truly poor, but that is not today. She's talking about moderate-income households, even if she does want to reexamine the city's definition of "affordable."

Yeah, It's So Far Off

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I can't even conceive of what she could be referring to.

$10M per year for 1000 units would only be $833/month. That is not even enough to cover the section 8 vouchers for 1000 units.

If she's talking about building affordable housing, $10M would maybe get you 25-30 units.


Maybe, but maybe she has better math than you do

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$10 million a year in revenue can service a $150,000,000 bond issue at 6% with 40 year maturity. A thousand units would mean $150K per unit, so yeah, probably not that many, but I bet we could get 750 units. And if there is federal matching funding available (quite likely), then maybe the 1,000 units estimate is about right.


Who owns these properties in Roxbury? Roxbury residents? subuurban white investors? Grandchildren of former owners?

If you take action, are you hurting black homeowners who simply have their chance now to make some money off of real estate?


More important: what mechanisms are driving gentrification?

A buddy and I were having a beer the last time I was in Portland. He grew up in Portland's major black neighborhood, and still lives there. He is also a realtor, and was annoyed by people who claimed to speak for the community who were claiming that white people were pushing out black people.

He knew of my experience with my late parents' home and that led us to wonder: how, exactly was the neighborhood turning over?

So we figured out a set of questions, and over the next month or so he put together the data. Most of the large parcels being turned into apartments or condos were former commercial or industrial parcels, with an occasional house lot pulled in. Most of the homes that were turning over were being sold out of estates (like my parents' home). In those cases, the vast majority were being conveyed by people with out of state addresses - in other words, the children and grandchildren had all moved to places like Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago to chase their fortunes, and they had no interest in coming back.

The neighborhood was not changing because people were being pushed out - although that was happening in the rental market (and my friend's data demonstrated that it wasn't absentee landlords but local investors going for top dollar). It was mostly changing because people had already left 20-30 years before.

The New Orleans diaspora also contributed to demand for housing in the neighborhood.

I wonder if, in part, this is what is happening in Roxbury - homes are sold out of estates and thus turn over - or if there is a different mechanism involved. In any case, understanding who is selling homes to whom (in a general sense) is an important first step to planning ways to stabilize the tenure of renters.

Bear in mind that properties sold out of probate are generally cash sales. The estate has no say or little say in the deal, and judges have to approve the sale. That means such sales are not made to families or individuals who need a mortgage, but sold to investors, developers and flippers.


Transition in Lower Roxbury

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All really good points and questions SwirlyGrrl. We bought our house (as a white middle-upper class family we are certainly contributing to the gentrification) in Lower Roxbury from three brothers who inherited the house they grew up in when their father died. It needed a ton of work so they wanted to sell it. This has happened to a number of other homes in our tiny little n'hood. But the big difference is that a number of these homes have been purchased by real estate investors (some of which were/are our new to the n'hood n'bors. We could not afford to buy in JP or the South End (a blessing in disguise bc we now love where we live) so we looked in Lower Roxbury.

Although not a popular stance, some type of rent regulation is needed (not proposing full blown rent control though) and more public and private investment in affordable homeownership and not just affordable rental housing.

Gets dicey but it is possible...

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to combine forces with people you are not married to to buy property. A few years back when myself, a roommate and a couple other people we knew were all facing the wave and getting booted from our rentals, we started talking to realtors about teaming up to buy a multi-family house. In the end it didn't work out and we ended up buying separate homes, but we looked at and even put offers in on several properties in Malden, Roslindale, Everett, etc.
I ended up in Mattapan. I got very lucky.

It would take a lot of trust and/or legal documentation but stuff like this is possible. Maybe some community organizers can get people together in a sort of co-op to buy homes they are already living in. When you look at the math it makes sense, 3 families renting at $2400 a month, if they pooled resources and BOUGHT the triple decker they were living in it would probably cut the monthly payment in half for everyone, and you'd be building equity. Problem is the logistics are kind of a nightmare in coordinating all 3 parties' finances. If there was an organization that could come up with a blueprint for something like this and could help people get their paperwork sorted I think it would see a lot of activity and success. The money is there, the organization/cooperation is not. It would be nice to flip that 81% figure to home owners in the area instead of renters.




I live co-op style right now in an old Victorian in JP, and my 5 housemates and I collectively pay $4160 per month in rent to our landlady - effectively paying her mortgage (and then some, quite possibly). Surely this could be leveraged somehow into a mortgage payment of our own. We've talked about long-term visioning and entertained the thought of forming an LLC among parties to deal with finances, but the in-roads to this kind of thing are murky at best. How can multiple unrelated, unmarried (to each other, anyway) adults jointly purchase property?

As a Millennial, this might be one of the few ways that members of my generation could ever hope to build equity in a city like Boston.

The solution to what you are

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The solution to what you are proposing (multiple unrelated getting together to buy a multiple family building (and all units will be vacant when bought) is very simple. Have all such persons enter into a contract (including all documents necessary for condo conversion) that once the property is purchased they will make the building into condominiums which each person owning a unit

Wouldn't work.

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You couldn't just convert a single family to a condo because you have 5 owners. Those "units" would then be held to building codes and would need their own bathrooms, kitchens, gas/electric meters, etc.

The best bet would be to form an LLC.

Haha, it's NOT very simple...

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otherwise more people would be doing it. Your idea was exactly what my friends and I were attempting and there is A LOT of red tape involved. Having multiple parties buying one property is hard enough. There are legal contracts needed to protect everyone's interests. Some may have good credit but no down payment money, others have the reverse. Agreements must be made. Each situation is different financially. Once a multi-family is purchased "condo-izing" it is another hurdle involving the city/town, more legal papers, more lawyer fees, etc etc. Then there is the issue of actually finding a place everyone can agree on and going through the offer process. Sellers often thats the BEST (soundest) offer and not the HIGHEST one to make things easier on themselves. An offer coming from a cobbled together group of poor people doesn't often win the sellers or their agents over.
We were pre-approved for over $800k and lost several bids on places we were all essentially compromising on.
Now, if there were a non-profit group that could lay the groudwork for people or were out recruiting residents of multi-families to try this offering some guidance I think it would go a long way. For most people buying a home is the most complex and frustrating process they will go through in their lifetimes. Help/ education is needed more than actual money.

Raising property taxes and

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Raising property taxes and using the money to pay for affordable housing subsidies is not "innovative" (Have people already forgotten the Community Preservation Act?), the problem is just that it buys so little housing as to be little more than a token effort.

You know what would actually be something we haven't tried yet? Zoning reform.


Is the goal

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to keep Roxbury affordable or to keep Roxbury the same as it's always been?

Campaigns like this often treat these as the same goal but it's not, in fact they are contradictory goals.

If you want Roxbury to stay affordable, then you have to allow more density to keep up with rising demand.

If you want Roxbury to stay exactly the same, then you'll have to be ready for those single families and oversized 2 families to increase in price.

It's one or the other. You can't have both, unless you build a wall around the neighborhood and refuse to let anyone in or out.


What a lot of people want is the third option

I.e. we get to say who lives here and who doesn't based on some length of residency metric. The problem of course is that in the end, it would become almost immediately an instrument of local patronage to administer that, never mind the effective seizure of private property to restrict the owner's options.


So Bizarre

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You are turning things into a gated community.

Residency length? Seriously? Grow up and find a new hobby, please. That's a bizarre, anti-democratic pile of ... steaming ...


My point

Which seems to have been missed by you is that I legit don't know how you classify people to sort out how to figure out who has the right to stay in a place they don't own vs. who doesn't. And then if you do sort out the people accordingly, you have to then figure out how to prevent the property owner from cashing out their asset at market value.

Gentrification is an exceeding difficult issue to sort out. If the city had large quantities of developable land or buildings who could be developed, then there are options. But I don't think that's the case here.


This is not what people want

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This is not what people want - people want options. They want the opportunity to participate in the change in their neighborhood. They want the opportunity to buy the property they've lived in for decades, or a property in a neighborhood they've lived in their whole lives.

No one (in the mainstream) is attacking private property rights. The tragedy of gentrification is not that renters occasionally have to move, that's a fact of life under capitalism. The tragedy is that there's nowhere for them to go. Communities are being scattered to the winds because the buying power of their members drastically lags behind that of the winners in Boston's economy, who are mostly youngish, white-ish and tech-ish.

Time travel isn't yet a thing

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Much of the time "the opportunity to participate in the change in their neighborhood" was before the change actually happened. And not too long ago, a lot of folks in Roxbury would have aspired to move to (and did move UP to) Randolph, Canton, Milton, etc.

Renting has its upsides & downsides. On the upside, you don't have to have the capital to buy and you're also not financially committed to the property. You're not responsible for maintenance and you can move with less hassle once your lease is up. And in Mass. you get a deduction on your state income tax. On the downside, you don't build equity and you have little control over what the landlord will charge you, so you might get displaced.

There's no real solution to "participat[ion] in the change" without a time machine. How do you force landlords to sell to tenants without also forcing the landlord to take a huge haircut on their property? That seems especially unfair when rental property owners in Roxbury also stuck it out through the bad times there.

Is City Council taking

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Is City Council taking lessons from the MBTA? All this time and money spent on studies with no real positive results to make the working class taxpayers (who are actually their employers) happy? LMFAO

Nope, ha ha

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Unlike the T, the city council will not be spending several hundred thousand/million dollars to hire a consultant. It's different when you hold hearings and people actually show up for them.


No Political Courage

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There isn’t a single city councilor with the political courage to take on the people really responsible for the dearth of new affordable housing: upper income single family homeowners who block and downzone seemingly every project in the city neighborhoods. None of the councilors would risk a single vote to tell these constituents they need to stop. Nevermind actually push for desperately needed zoning reform.


Well here in America

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We elect people to represent us, not lecture and tell us whats best. Ones called an elected official the other a dictator.


You might want to bone up on

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You might want to bone up on the city zoning process. The only people lecturing are residents who decry any new housing in one breath then decry the lack of affordable housing in the next breath. All while having zero concern for anything beyond their parochial self-interest.

We didn't invent this issue

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Clearly cities all over the world have faced this same "How do we control gentrification?" issue. Has anyone ever successfully dealt with it where most of the existing people end up happy? (Not being snarky...I'm serious. Is there a model somewhere that worked?)

I would say that renters

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I would say that renters being priced out of their neighborhoods is less of an issue in urban areas that have excellent public transit. Living in Brockton wouldn't be so bad if people could reliably and quickly get to their jobs in Boston from there. That is why we need congestion pricing and a gas tax hike. That revenue can improve public transit and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands who live in the greater Boston area. This won't happen with Charlie Baker in office, though.



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On a national level I suppose I understand why this never gains traction but here in MA? My GOD, especially after it went from being like $4.50/gallon under Bush to being well under $2/gallon under Obama. There were ample years where MA residents probably would have rolled over to a 5 cent hike per gallon in tax, and the politicians didn't even try. I mean, while the prices were going DOWN no one would have even noticed! That money would go a long way to improving transit.
Now that gas is creeping ever upwards (under ANOTHER GOP POTUS, whodathunkit?!?!) again citizen support for a gas tax hike is ever more unlikely.

There’s a train to Brockton

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And since I have a tab up with the zones because of a comment I just wrote on another article, I can tell you that 2 of the City’s stations are in zone 4, with the other one in zone 5.


40 minutes downtown to downtown

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Which is the same time than it takes to get downtown from a lot of parts of Boston. I budget 40 minutes to/from Roslindale myself.

As for reliability, it's the T. It's probably as reliable as any other commuter rail or subway line.


Doesn't just mean the train show at the scheduled time and lets you off at the scheduled time. It means that there will be a train when you need it - you can rely on it. The CR is not that - with few trips spaced far apart, if there are any changed to your own schedule you can't use it.


I'm not using it in the more technical sense, I'm using it in the sense of "can someone rely on it?" You can't rely on the CR to be there when you need it, but I can mostly rely on the Orange Line or the 39 to show up soon after I do. Frequency is one of the parts of reliability, as are span, speed, and consistency.

I gotta disagree

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If I know I can get on a train at Brockton Station at 7:42 that will get to South Station at 8:18, I can plan my life around it. Similarly, if it is a lock that the train that leaves South Station at 4:40 will get to Brockton at 5:14, I can be assured to get to daycare by the station by the time they close at 5:30. That's reliability. A reliable car is a car that starts all the time and doesn't break down. That I drive the car in traffic that varies greatly is not on the car, but on the traffic. The traffic is unreliable, since I would have no clue how long the drive from point A to point B would be. If the trains arrive at roughly the same time every day, they are reliable. If they don't, they aren't. A lot more trains run on the Red Line than on the Middleboro/Lakeville Line. That doesn't make the Red Line more reliable.

What major metropolitan city

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In the US has a public transit system that can quickly and efficiently move people 25miles into the City for work? What's the example MA public transit should emulate?

And in most European cities

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The locations akin to where people from Roxbury are moving to when they are priced are considered isolated areas with poor transit connections.

You have to understand how it happens

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Politicians love to grandstand and blame "outsiders" and all that.

Never the courts and judges who require quick, high value property sales when someone dies without a will.

Housing Developers = Pharmaceutical Companies

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Profit seeking on basic human necessities.

Yes, drug companies need to make money, in order to continue R&D and the like. But when American drug companies are selling pills for $200 each that in other countries are $6 each - that's profiteering. At most people recognize it as such.

Same goes, with real estate developers in Boston. This line that every unit constructed has to be 'luxury', or every existing building being redeveloped has to rent back out at 80% higher than what it replaced, in order for the production of new housing to be 'viable' is BS. This is simply institutionalized profiteering via housing and the basic human need for housing, ala medicine.

What is needed is a massive non-profit housing bank to create affordable marketable units. No developer profits involved. Build and supply at cost. With deed restrictions galore to meet agreed upon community stability goals. There are several local CDC's who are nibbling around the edges on this. But this should be broad public policy in Boston. The free market will never deliver the public benefit that not-for-profit housing production would.


Where do you suggest the costs be cut?

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It sounds like you're saying land, permitting, materials, labor, and engineering costs are fine and dandy but developers are making too much money. Why is the developer the only one who doesn't get to participate in the economy? Shouldn't we be telling the civil engineers that our public policy is to build housing so they need to stop making money and start working at cost? How about the construction workers? Shouldn't they accept less pay because they're doing it for the benefit of adding more housing units? Or how about we ask the supplier of 2x4s to stop making money selling them because we need those for new buildings?

In all seriousness, please look at this UC Berkley page on housing costs and whether or not housing will get built. Especially:

Most developers do not have the $10s to $100s of millions necessary to fund a typical real estate project. Outside investors — such as a pension fund or Real Estate Investment Trust — provide most of the money for real estate projects and need a certain return, given the risks involved. Real estate projects are considered risky, and if the annual rate of return drops to levels close to that of less risky investments — such as Coca-Cola stock or "risk-free" US Treasury bonds — investors will choose to put their money in these less risky alternatives instead of funding this project.

It costs over $450k even for

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It costs over $450k even for a non-profit to build a single 1,000 square foot unit in Jamaica Plain. At that price even an "at cost" unit is out of the reach of the average Bostonian. The problem is not "profiteering." The problem is that building is too complicated and expensive (especially the permitting process).

I'm curious

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where you're getting those numbers. Don't mean to cast doubt on you at all, I'm just really surprised that new construction is so expensive. Other than land costs, it seems like it shouldn't be THAT much more expensive to pour concrete or hang drywall in JP than in, say, Needham.

These numbers are pretty

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These numbers are pretty widely quoted in the local media but the most trustworthy source I saw was the number that my local CDC (JPNDC) quoted as the per unit construction cost for the 125 Amory Street redevelopment).

The major tool missing from

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The major tool missing from Boston is variable tax rates. Besides the residential exemption (a $2500/year) there's no government incentive for investors to sell off rental units and turn them into owner occupied units. The new 2018 cap on the mortgage-interest deduction only makes it worse, since a landlord's LLC doesn't have a cap on their mortgage-interest deduction like a homeowner now does.

Change the tax rates on residential real property from a flat 1.0%, to something like 0.8% on owner-occupied and 2.0% (or higher) on investor-owned units. The tax bill on a $500k rental unit will then go up by $5k, giving a little more incentive to the investor to sell, and a little more incentive to homeowners to buy it up.

For that the happen, the state will need to change laws about how properties are assessed and taxed. Those laws are very old and due for revision anyway.

Not All Gentrification is Bad

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Not all gentrification is bad.

In some neighborhoods such as Hyde Park homeowners (which make up a good portion of Hyde Park) would benefit from gentrification.

With gentrification stores would improve from dollar stores and manicures to nicer stores and higher quality merchandise (which is not always higher cost), the food establishments would improve from fast food to nicer restaurants bistros cafes etc, there would be a lower number of those violating zoning codes and other criminals etc.

In the neighborhoods of major gentrification it is usually because of the input of new large structures, South Boston became gentrified due to the Convention center and Federal Court House, the West End became gentrified due to Charles River Park, and the South End became gentrified due to Copley Place and the Mandarin Oriental.

In these areas gentrification then spread though not at the same percentage to the area immediately around these neighborhoods, so gentrification of parts of Roxbury is spreading due to the South End gentrification and gentrification of parts of Dorchester is spreading due to gentrification of South Boston.

So where are the people being gentrified from Roxbury and Dorchester going. Have been told they are going to Hyde Park and that Hyde Park has gone downhill.

One thing regarding renters is that when affordable housing is being built in such neighborhoods preference should go to those who live in the neighborhood or were forced to move from the neighborhood due to unaffordable price increases.

For example in Hyde Park there is a new so called affordable building but no preference is being given to Hyde Park residents and only 19 of the 27 units are even giving a preference to Boston residents. 6 of the 27 units are being designated as direct referrals from CBH and HSA (believed to be mental hospital alternatives for outsiders) and of the remaining units there is only one one bedroom unit in the entire building and that is at the 70% level.

So, in short

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You want to price the renters who live in Hyde Park out of the neighborhood they live in.

There are parts of Hyde Park

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There are parts of Hyde Park zoned solely for single family homes and maybe 2 family homes. Not a lot of renters in those neighborhoods. Homeowners in Hyde Park deserve nice neighborhoods and the only way to get it is gentrification.

Um, what?

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I admit it: We don't live in Hyde Park. But we're only six or seven doors down from the line, so we spend a fair amount of time there, and I'm wondering where these awful parts of Hyde Park are that are in desperate need of gentrification.

Look at Cleary Square among

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Look at Cleary Square among others. All it is is primarily dollar stores and fast food joints. No sitting outside on a nice day and dining alfresco or even having a latte, no book stores, no nice clothing stores, everything there seems dirty

Yes, a lot of dollar stores

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But given how narrow the street is, I'm not thinking you'd be getting much alfresco dining even if you did somehow manage to replace all the dollar stores with Harvard-Square type boites (and let's not forget Zaz, the Fairmount Grille, Rincon Caribeno and the place where Dottie's used to be; and even the River Grille has some interesting dishes now).

In the meantime, stop to think about how all those discount stores stay in business - somebody must be shopping in them. Better them than just empty storefronts.

I could also direct you to

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I could also direct you to residential sections in Hyde Park need of gentrification, areas where there are open violation of zoning codes and other criminal acts but am not doing that here because this is a public web site, .

Half of housing units in Hyde Park are rentals

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Per the 2010 Census. Not exactly half, but 48%. You want them priced out of the neighborhood.

I run through Hyde Park a lot, with most runs going through Cleary Square. I think Hyde Park is great. You don’t seem to like it. You should move.

Different parts of Hyde Park

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Different parts of Hyde Park are zoned differently, some are zoned for single family only (or maybe two family) these parts seemed to have a larger percentage of owner occupants. Some parts of Hyde Park are zoned for multiple family, that is where there are more renters. Telling someone to move rather then improve it is obnoxious. As far as moving its not that simple, safe decent homes in safe decent neighborhoods are expensive.

Let's look at it a different way

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You are basically saying that half the population of the neighborhood should be forced to leave. It's kind of obnoxious to be posting a comment on an article where political leaders are worried about residents being priced out of a neighborhood they live in saying you dream of a day when that problem occurs in your own neighborhood.

I mean, some of us like Hyde Park and the people who live there. Then there's you.

what are you even talking about

Southie was gentrified by the convention center? That's truly a wild claim - you don't think stuff like Vertex and all the other large employers growing their business in the Seaport and downtown caused it?

Also, do you like in Hyde Park and do you own? Your post is full of hearsay statements but also written like you don't have any direct experience with these Roxbury emigres.

Get your facts straight.

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Get your facts straight. Before Fan Pier (the Federal court house) and the convention center that part of South Boston now known as the seaport district was a vast wasteland. There were a few nice restaurants there (Anthony's Pier Four and Jimmy's Harborside) but other then there was mostly free parking lots miles and miles of free parking. behind that there was some seedy industrial places and then housing projects and other slum housing. The bars were seedy bars what was commonly referred to as mens bars.

Hey Kim please remember that

grandmother from Roxbury is entitled to the same jackpot that Southie, Charlestown, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain and Eastie lifers have seen in real estate windfall.