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Fields Corner could get studio apartments for $650 to $850 a month

Architect's rendering of Westville Street building

Architect's rendering.

The owners of a Fields Corner cafe have filed plans with the BPDA for a building with 14 studio apartments they say would rent for between $650 and $850 a month - heat and hot water included.

In a filing with the BPDA, Vivian and Elisa Girard, owners of the home.stead cafe on Dorchester Avenue, says their proposed building at 141 Westville St. would fill a crying need in the city for inexpensive housing - and they say they can build the units without any subsidies.

The units, between 260 and 280 square feet in size, are based on Boston's Compact Living Pilot under which developers can apply to build units smaller than typically allowed in new construction in the city.

The Girards explain their concept for highly energy efficient, inexpensive apartments in an area well served by public transit - the building would have not parking spaces, but is served by three bus lines and is near the Fields Corner Red Line stop.

Two years ago, along with a business partner, my wife Elisa and I opened home.stead café, a bakery and café in Fields Corner. Even though all of our employees earn well above the hourly minimum wage, housing and housing costs in particular, remains a serious concern for most of them. We strongly believe that everyone who works 40 hours a week should be able to afford quality housing that's within a reasonable walking distance or a short public transit commute.

The overarching goal of the 141westville project is to provide the best possible living option to single folks who can't afford or don't wish to spend more than $650 to $850 a month in housing expenses.

In today's Boston, the only option at this rent level is to live with multiple housemates in settings that are typically more confined, in increasingly limited supply, and for most adults past their mid-twenties; less desirable. Yet, with such high housing costs, many people with full time jobs are bound to live with housemates well after they complete their school education. Both my wife and I were in this situation for a good number of years. The 141westville housing model is largely based on our personal experience; we designed it as a space we would have been able to afford and would have enjoyed living in prior to being able to afford a home together.

141 Westville St. small-project review application (12.7M PDF).

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Comments

Would it kill the developer to cough up a few thousand bucks for some decorative composite trim or to vary the texture of the shingles/siding at one floor to add a little variety?

Why is it that when the triple deckers were built by and for dirt poor working class people they had more character than what's built today in terms of color & texture?

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Affordable housing in the neighborhoods! What a dream! Let's just be happy this is going anywhere instead of worrying about aesthetics.

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Totally agree. Inexpensive does not have to be boring.

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Did you read the article? They’re accomplishing what’s nearly a miracle in this city—ie providing housing that their employees might actually be able to afford and you’re nattering on about trim molding? Oy.

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To just grow up and, maybe, build your perfect affordable building out of your own pocket money?

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Disclaimer: new affordable housing is wonderful and all the power to the developers to that extent.

But the reactions to the above post are absurd. So many of our beloved triple-deckers contain beautiful details. There is no reason why affordable housing requires that we entirely discard aesthetic considerations. Good design and affordability are not mutually exclusive. These are homes for real people, and real people live in the neighborhood. We shouldn’t settle for relentless ugliness in our neighborhoods - just because developers have told us it’s the only way to make it “feasible.” We can do better!

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Exactly. This reminds me of the chef who opened soup kitchens that had beautiful artwork on the walls and felt more like restaurants than church basements. Just because you're providing something for people in need doesn't mean it needs to be bare-bones or boring.

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A ton of triple deckers are dirt-boring. A lot of the decoration (and porches) are add-ons, as people upgraded and updated their family's house. Keeping things simple keeps them easy and cheaper to source, build, maintain, repair, and replace.

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If this is a new development demand for these would be overwhelming I would think. Would there need to be a lottery to get one?

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If there is money to be made, people will invest more in these types of properties. But you figure you are looking at around 10K a month in rental income. Heat and Hot Water included? That's a big hit. Good for these people for investing in their community I guess, but they also say they aren't taking any subsidies. I wouldn't be that proud, there is nothing wrong with looking into assistance for this type of investment.

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Heat and Hot Water included? That's a big hit.

From the proposal

he building envelope will be super insulated (R-30 walls) and include the most efficient heating system, heat recovery ventilator, water saving plumbing fixtures, drain water heat recovery and highly energy efficient lighting. The objective is a total energy cost of under $1/day/occupant.

So .5% of the rental income will go to heat if their plan is successful.

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But how much for the Guiness ?

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Subsidies = Restrictions

Restrictions = rigged lotteries to get connected people cheap rents.

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My understanding, from previous reports about this project, is that they will give preference to the folks who work for them. Vivian and Elisa have been active neighborhood participants for years. Great people.

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Is it legal for a landlord of a building to "give preference" in this way?

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Well, they are not taking any federal or state money and they are not selecting by race, religion, etc.

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This is a great idea and more developers should embrace this concept. Rental housing at affordable rates are impossible in the city. Full-time working adults can no longer afford to live on their own because the cost of housing is more than double minimum wage.

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Step One would be to eliminate parking minimums. The cost of constructing a single underground parking space in Boston was $31,000 in 2014. These costs pass on to everyone--car owners or not--as higher rents.

Step Two would be to allow more buildings of this size and scale in every neighborhood. At 3,000 sq. ft. this lot is the "postage stamp" lot that NIMBYs love to hate. Yet, if approved, this little lot will provide 14 new homes.

Parking cost: http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/HighCost.pdf

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I have toured the test unit and am amazed at how spacious they make the small space with some well thought out, well placed touches. The kitchen area in particular is great because it can completely fold away. I also personally know Vivian and Elisa and they both are very committed to the community and creating solutions .

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I've met Vivian and Elisa many years ago and while I don't know them well it doesn't surprise me that they would do this sort of project. Very much interested in community development.

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In the images, the kitchen seems a bit on the spartan side, lacking a stove. How did it look in real life?

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Based off of the test unit , when I toured it, you are right the kitchen is Spartan. You will not be making Thanksgiving dinner in these units. There was an induction cooktop, an Instapot, a smallish fridge, a sink. This may not be ideal for those who enjoy spending the weekend cooking and then storing all that food for a month but I suspect the target audience would get along just fine with the appliances that can fit in there and would appreciate the space saving features more... On a side note the shower was much more spacious than one would expect (no tub) , as was the closet space.

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Then I noted to myself that few people take baths.

Thanks for the review of the kitchen area.

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I think it's a very coherent and logical design. The city could do with a couple thousand of these.

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This drawing lacks diversity.

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Not sure what or who you’re not seeing here.

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I have noted architectural renderings that feature only or almost entirely white people, even in neighborhoods that are predominantly black. I suspect the previous poster has a long memory.

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This is exactly what Dorchester needs. Rent is supposed to be 25% to 33% of salary. This will prevent single workers from filling up the short supply of 3-4 bedroom apartments for families. What good are micro apartments in the Seaport? More employers should be building housing.

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Does it only appear to be "affordable" because of how tiny the studios are? I'm just saying that a 280 sqft studio for $850/mo is like a 840 sqft 1br for $2,550.. in Fields Corner. I know nothing about this project and admit as much, but does this really sound like a praiseworthy good deal? Serious question.

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No thanks, I'll take the studio for 850.

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You and I aren't like a lot of people in Boston. The person who gets one of these places for $700 can and will split it with a friend or family member for $350 a piece.

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Not unless they are intimate partners. No room.

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Just obey any local and state occupancy laws. Otherwise knock yourself out.

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Some of these will have 2-4 people living in them.

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Affordability has a variety of definitions depending on who you ask and on context.

When city officials talk about "Affordable Housing" they usually mean a unit which is deed-restricted or subsidized at below-market rates and which people get through a city-run affordable housing lottery. By that definition, these would be market-rate apartments, not Affordable. To avoid this confusion, I often say "Capital A Affordable," or "Deed Restricted Affordable," or "Subsidized" when I refer to homes that are part of city-regulated affordable housing programs.

Lots of people also talk about "affordable" in terms of the percentage of income spent on rent. Depending on how you calculate it, people say you should spend no more than 25 to 33% of your income on rent. (33% if you can avoid having a car, 25% if you also have significant transportation expenses). So, by that definition, these homes are affordable to someone making as little as $2,600 a month/$31,000 a year.
Some people refer to low-priced market-rate homes as "attainable" to distinguish them from the other kind above.

Neither definition uses a price-per-square-foot metric, so... yeah, these are still expensive per square foot. That's city living for ya. The major advantage of this kind of housing is that it lets people live in the city on a tight budget without the city spending money to subsidize them, run a lottery for access to them, etc.

Is it a "good deal?" I'm sure that there will be a few dozen people who think it's a deal good enough to take.

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Everyone who plays along with the old politician-speak confuses the matter.

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It will be great if this works out because it’s much needed, but I have questions.
If it’s primarily for their employees, what happens if an employee moves on to a new job or is fired? Can couples occupy one of these? A parent and child? Besides their employees, who else could live here and how would they decide? These units will be in high demand. I’m very much hoping this is the start of an affordable housing model. Best of luck!

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It sounds like they will give move-in preference to people who currently work for them. Once in, then I would expect that normal tenancy rules and protections would apply.

There are a separate set of rules governing housing & tenancy when housing is included as part of your paycheck (for on-site superintendents, au pairs, etc) but I don't know how that works. This one sounds like it's pretty close to the company putting up a notice about apartments in the breakroom before they post it to Craigslist. But that's just guesses on my part.

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I hope this works and it really should. The numbers are really great. They bought the land for $95k and build out will be about $200/sq ft provided the site work is easy. With almost $12k in rent roll it is a no-brainer when you consider three units with a $7500./mo rent roll are selling around $1.1M in Dorchester. 1 beds and studios are easy to rent. The only thing is their rental restrictions might put them in hot-water with fair housing regs. For example, someone who is handicapped and uses a car for mobility will be excluded from renting there, even if they are willing to make reasonable accommodation, they are actively advertising and discouraging against that type of renter. Tenants are also required to be from a predetermined geographic area... While a nice thought and I commend them on trying to make things equitable. I see a discrimination lawsuit in their future. They should make their employees a priority and then open the other units up to the general market.

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The only thing is their rental restrictions might put them in hot-water with fair housing regs. For example, someone who is handicapped and uses a car for mobility will be excluded from renting there, even if they are willing to make reasonable accommodation, they are actively advertising and discouraging against that type of renter.

Nope. Not how it works, dear. Cars are not sacred.

If you think housing has to be accessible, think again.

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https://www.141westville.com/

"Only residents who do not own a car will be allowed to reside at this address. It will be an explicit and non-negotiable lease requirement."

I am actually pro-density and anti-car but if you are not looking at the realities of our rental pool and fair housing laws you are sorely uneducated.

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There is legal and illegal discremination. Illegal is the one based on religion, race, disability, sexual orientation and a couple of other factors I forgot about, but I am sure that car ownership status is not a legally protected class.

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Please explain when and how and where a developer or landlord has ever been sanctioned in any way because some person with a disability insisted that they required free parking on site.

Take your time.

Transit is accessible. A car is NOT a wheelchair.

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Reading is fundamental. They are prohibiting car ownership period. Whether you park on the street, the lot, or rents nearby space.

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Stop playing this stupid game. SHOW US WHERE THERE ARE LAWS THAT SAY THAT PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ARE ENTITLED TO A CAR!

Or just STFU already!

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Which is about the enforceability of a lease that prevents car ownership. In general.

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They make their point, but do not answer the question. Twice That's bad form.

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What's to stop someone from getting a car if they live there? The building doesn't have parking, but they can park on the street (and ask the city to post a handicapped street space if applicable), or rent a space nearby.

It's not like one of those awful proposals to ban residents of new apartment buildings from getting a resident permit, so existing residents with driveways can have an easy time parking on the street.

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Never mind, scratch my earlier post. These "compact living" units DO have a ban on getting a resident permit. The city buries this information on page 14 of the pdf.

What an awful policy. It's the worst kind of screw-the-newcomers discrimination.

You can move there and be just fine without a car. And then one day your job moves to Canton, or you become disabled, or you need to take care of an elderly family member. But you can't use street parking, just so longtime residents don't have to share a public resource they've been getting for free all along, whether they need it or not.

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There isn't much parking enforcement on Westville.

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Parking illegally near your house on a long-term basis is not sustainable. Just because they don't enforce it now doesn't mean they never will.

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They would not be parking illegally. Westville Street is not resident restricted parking. And they won't enforce parking regulations until the local income goes up.

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Persons with disabilities do not get special "vehicle rights". This is just nonsense.

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Disabled persons don’t always need a wheelchair. Certain lung and heart conditions easily require a vehicle for daily life. Ever live with sarcoidosis or COPD? Walking more than a few hundred feet can be impossible. Fair housing requires reasonable accommodation and restricts advertising that may discourage a protected class. Never describe the renter is rule #1.

Just because you don’t want it to be true doesn’t mean it isn’t.

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Please LINK or SHOW where ANY landlords have EVER been sanctioned for prohibiting parking.

PROVE IT.

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This type of zoning that prohibits getting a resident permit is new. Just because nobody has had a chance to sue yet doesn't mean it's legal or fair.

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or make each post as an isolated statement. So if you read the fine print, they are expecting leaseholders to not own a car. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with parking actually.

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People with disabilities do get some vehicle rights, in the form of handicapped parking.

But that wasn't my point. It was:
- People's situations can change involuntarily, and they shouldn't have to give up their housing because of it.
- Public resources should not be allocated by who lived in the neighborhood the longest, with no regard for the person's actual need for the resource.

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Even if 1,000 were built it still wouldn't be enough

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Yeah, it's not the complete answer. But it's better than nothing. It's a start.

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It would take three of those to equal the size of a normal two bedroom apartment - $2400 for the equivalent of a two bedroom in Bowdoin/Geneva isn’t unreasonable at all, in fact it’s extremely high for the area.

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I wonder why solar is not mentioned? It's a flat roof, seems aligned with the builder's interests, and is pretty affordable.

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While the idea isn't bad there will be 14 apartments where 3 once stood. That's fine here and there but I'm not sure if I were a neighbor that I'd appreciate the increased density.

I assume rents would be 10K per month. So that works given there's more management needed for 14 vs 3.
Yes, Westville St is near the MBTA buses and the train, but I'm guessing most will still have cars. The devil is in the details. I like the idea but more details are needed.

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Brian, good point; in case you happen to look at this tread again, more details are available in the FAQ section of the project's website at www.141westville.com/usefull-links

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Assuming that the triple decker is 3 bedroom each, that's about 9 people (some empty bedrooms, some shared). This will have 5 more people than that. Just 5. If you assume 4 people in each of the triple decker units (2 couples - I find to be a very comfortable arrangement), that's a theoretical 12 people, this would have only two more than that.

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