Boston is suing a Rhode Island man it says bought a federally and city-funded "affordable" Roxbury condo in 2012 but is now renting it out, in violation of a deed restriction that requires the unit only be owned and occupied by Boston residents.
In its complaint, filed Friday in Suffolk Superior Court, the city asks a judge to order John Brownell to immediately sell the condo to Boston residents who could really use a place to live as well as pay the city all the money he's made renting the place.
At issue is a condo at 102 Homestead St., one of the 16 units in Uva Douglas Estates at Sugar Hill, which were sold in 2012 with deed restrictions limiting their ownership and occupancy to Boston residents making no more than 80% of the Boston area median income. The units are named for an 82-year-old neighbor of the project who died when somebody torched the development while it was still under construction in 2002.
Boston alleges that Brownell, who was one of the winners of a lottery to buy one of the units in 2012, now lives in Pawtucket, RI, and that he is renting out the unit. His deed has riders that ban both investor owners and leasing the unit, which means that what Brownell is doing violates state affordable-housing and consumer-protection laws and is a breach of contract, Boston alleges. Both riders expire in 2032, the city says.
In its complaint, the city alleges Brownell has been ignoring annual city requests for proof he still lives in the condo for years, that, in fact, he has never filed "a principal residence certification" as required. In 2016, the complaint continues, the city did some investigating and found that Brownell lives in Rhode Island, where he actually maintains two residences, the one in Pawtucket and another in Warwick.
The city says all this is not just a deed violation but unfair to Boston residents who cannot afford market-rate housing here:
In the City of Boston, there is a significant shortage of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income individuals and families. For this reason, the creation and preservation of affordable housing is of utmost importance to the City and its leadership.