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Old 11-15-2012, 12:56 PM   #41
choo
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Re: Boston's housing problem

Don't know where the big rent control tirade came from. I think the best way to combat high housing costs is more housing supply. Hopefully these supports increase the supply and density around our most economically productive areas. I think it is critically important to our future economic growth. With cities seeing a revival, Boston-Cambridge jobs and amenities are going to continue to attract people. This will lead to people being priced out of the traditional "working class" areas of Southie, Somerville, and which will extend into other areas. Eventually, downtown janitors and lower wage service workers will be priced out of the area and won't be able to afford to drive in and pay $25 to park.

This is why I was lamenting the lack of coordination between transportation and housing policies. I think this housing policy is a step in the right direction, but is only one side of the coin.
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Old 11-15-2012, 01:05 PM   #42
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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Don't know where the big rent control tirade came from. I think the best way to combat high housing costs is more housing supply. Hopefully these supports increase the supply and density around our most economically productive areas. I think it is critically important to our future economic growth. With cities seeing a revival, Boston-Cambridge jobs and amenities are going to continue to attract people. This will lead to people being priced out of the traditional "working class" areas of Southie, Somerville, and which will extend into other areas. Eventually, downtown janitors and lower wage service workers will be priced out of the area and won't be able to afford to drive in and pay $25 to park.

This is why I was lamenting the lack of coordination between transportation and housing policies. I think this housing policy is a step in the right direction, but is only one side of the coin.
Bouncing off of this post, I think the Silver Line to City Point needs to come back and any height caps along the route should be raised. Whatever the FAA says is fine: go with that. I don't see why we're preserving Southie as a transit hole filled with hundred of triple deckers. As it is, the yuppies are trickling in and prices are going up.
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Old 11-15-2012, 08:58 PM   #43
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Re: Boston's housing problem

If there weren't such insane laws around developing property in MA, this problem would have already taken care of itself.
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:16 AM   #44
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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If there weren't such insane laws around developing property in MA, this problem would have already taken care of itself.
That's what I'm sayin'. But it is too "politically toxic" and we can get a fricken thing done. It needs to change.
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Old 11-16-2012, 10:03 AM   #45
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Re: Boston's housing problem

I don't think it's necessarily "politically toxic", I think its "locally toxic". I mean that in the following sense. Local owners have outsized influence over development in urban areas, where i think their needs (in some cases more legitimate then others) our outweighed by the larger good. I don't know the breakdown, but I am sure the ownership-rental ratio is much lower in south end, back bay, downtown, cambridge, somerville than many other areas. Residents are more transient, often in or just out of college, no kids, and making just enough to get by at an entry level job. These people aren't going to community meetings. But if everything has to go through the local wringer, where owners (of which I am one in one of these areas) have a heavily vested interest in limiting new housing supply to inflate their own property value. That's why I think a more form based zoning and state level incentives that recognize that while some people may be hurt (actually just slightly less better off I believe), more housing will have a much greater impact on the larger economy. Lower housing costs, access to better jobs, and a self-fulfilling local economy that can support new private and public amenities and services.
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Old 11-16-2012, 04:25 PM   #46
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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Bouncing off of this post, I think the Silver Line to City Point needs to come back and any height caps along the route should be raised. Whatever the FAA says is fine: go with that. I don't see why we're preserving Southie as a transit hole filled with hundred of triple deckers. As it is, the yuppies are trickling in and prices are going up.
On general principle, I completely agree with you - but reinstating the SL3 bus route is not the way to go about improving connectivity in Southie - and I would suggest that the real problem which needs to be addressed is City Point itself. There is no City Point Bus Terminal - there's not even a City Point bus stop, really. City Point exists as an arbitrary construct, a sign stuck in the ground at the corner of E 1st and O Streets, and serves only as the point at which all bus lines in Southie end arbitrarily. (I rode a bus down there, actually, thinking that the google maps display of nothing at City Point surely was a mistake - only to be dumped off unceremoniously in front of it.) No waiting facilities of any kind - not even a crappy little bench - and buses that arrive to City Point do not even stop there for an extended period of time.

There's a conflicting message going on there: if you want to use the bus, you've got to wait for the bus because the bus won't wait for you - but there's nowhere to wait.

That's not going to change if you start running special silver-colored buses that way, and that's not going to change if you bulk up headways on the 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11 (which should happen anyway). It probably wouldn't even change if you started building up Southie to the FAA's maximum height allowances - purely because of how uninviting it is. Even Silver Line Way, which holds a "special" place in my heart as being the singularly worst bus stop out of all the Silver Line bus stops, at least has something vaguely resembling shelter.

Southie needs a transit anchor of some kind - its buses need a logical and inviting start and end point. Frankly, that means actually building a City Point Bus Terminal, and it pains me to suggest that because I'm already imagining Silver Line-related doomsday scenarios for City Point "Station."

My preferred alternative would be to restructure the bus routes so that they all ended at Castle Island instead. It's a 1 mile extension so it doesn't make much impact on the bus run times - but, in terms of walkability, the difference between being dropped off in a dead space or dropped off at Castle Island / Marine Park is huge, and I'd anticipate people would be far more willing to wait for a bus there than they would at City Point.
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Old 11-16-2012, 10:17 PM   #47
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Re: Boston's housing problem

Wait- what? I thought there WAS a City Point terminal. If not, then what is this: https://www.google.com/maps?ll=42.33...00142&t=h&z=20

It does look shitty, yes, but it is more than a sign and it isn't going anywhere (I would think).
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Old 11-17-2012, 10:22 AM   #48
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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Wait- what? I thought there WAS a City Point terminal. If not, then what is this: https://www.google.com/maps?ll=42.33...00142&t=h&z=20

It does look shitty, yes, but it is more than a sign and it isn't going anywhere (I would think).
I would guess that's what they were using to turn the SL3 buses around, but I know the bus I was on never actually made it there - or at least it never made it there with passengers, since E 1st and O Street was the "last stop."

Maybe I just had a shitty bus driver. I'll have to venture on down there again sometime.
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Old 11-17-2012, 11:19 AM   #49
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Re: Boston's housing problem

They use it to turn the buses. I don't know otherwise. I saw a passenger on a bus coming out of City Point once, while I was waiting at E 1st and O Street. But it might have been an employee.

(just noticed that we both have the same number of posts at this time, weird coincidence)
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Old 11-17-2012, 04:04 PM   #50
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Re: Boston's housing problem

Getting back to the original topic of the thread...

Without minimizing the problems that others have mentioned, I'd bet the reason Boston has such a high proportion of old housing stock is because other cities have a larger geographical footprint that encompasses outlying areas that were developed later. If Boston's footprint included lots of suburbs, it would probably have similar numbers to theirs.
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Old 11-24-2012, 12:37 PM   #51
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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New Globe story on micro units. Here.
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“Kudos to the mayor for encouraging developers to do a different housing model,” says Roy. “It increases supply and diversifies the market. But it’s not going to answer the affordability question.”

The units — often so small that Menino needed to exempt them from city codes — respond to changes in demographics and consumer attitudes. According to the annual housing report card by the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University, 12,000 new units a year are needed to meet projected population growth in metro Boston, and much of the demand will be in the city core.

The study’s author, Barry Bluestone, said housing starts will be driven by two groups at opposite ends of the demographic spectrum: older retirees with significant assets looking to downsize, and recent college graduates with significant debt. Both could be attracted to the new micro units. But one group can pay a lot more.

Fifty mini units, which are closer to 450 square feet, are planned for the residential tower on the former site of Anthony’s Pier Four. There are no cost controls; the units will command whatever the market will bear. No one knows for sure, but estimates range around $1,500 a month. Reasonable? You’d need to earn $72,000 a year for that rent to be 25 percent of gross income, the usual goal.
$1500 a month, actually, can buy you a downright cushy apartment in Boston. I should know - that was about what I was looking at when I was touring places to live in Boston. Places which, in every case, came with more than double the amount of living space.

Hell, I even checked - just to see how far out of my budget it was! - Harborpoint on the Bay. They were ready to give me a one-bedroom with a downright spectacular view, right there on the water for $1600 a month. Think about that for a minute.

NOBODY who can afford to pay for one of these barely habitable little boxes is going to lower themselves to that level. They'll either move in to a 'luxury' apartment, or move out of the city.

Hell, $1500 a month is a monthly pass from South Station to New London AND $600 towards an apartment on top of that. Something tells me $600 gets you a lot farther down there than it does up here.

So why the fuck would anyone, ANYONE go along with this?
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Old 11-24-2012, 01:21 PM   #52
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Re: Boston's housing problem

450 sq ft is a studio.

I think these micro-units are just a little bit silly. All this hoopla just to avoid scrapping misguided zoning laws? How about just building units on available land, and stop wasting land on parking lots, median strips, highway ramps and other wastes of space that only exist to please suburbanites? It's amazing how much space there is available when you stop wasting it on excessive automobile infrastructure.

You could even build classic, 19th century-style apartments (with modern amenities) to blend in nicely with the existing stock.

Of course, any housing article wouldn't be complete without basic economics fail:
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Just increasing supply won’t be enough.
Yes, it would be enough. But you have to do it big time, or else it won't make a noticeable dent in prices. And to do that you have to remove ridiculously overbearing restrictions on development that only exist to promote suburbanization.
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Old 11-24-2012, 01:29 PM   #53
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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450 sq ft is a studio.

I think these micro-units are just a little bit silly. All this hoopla just to avoid scrapping misguided zoning laws? How about just building units on available land, and stop wasting land on parking lots, median strips, highway ramps and other wastes of space that only exist to please suburbanites? It's amazing how much space there is available when you stop wasting it on excessive automobile infrastructure.

You could even build classic, 19th century-style apartments (with modern amenities) to blend in nicely with the existing stock.

Of course, any housing article wouldn't be complete without basic economics fail:

Yes, it would be enough. But you have to do it big time, or else it won't make a noticeable dent in prices. And to do that you have to remove ridiculously overbearing restrictions on development that only exist to promote suburbanization.

Every forum has to have one.
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Old 11-25-2012, 06:11 PM   #54
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Re: Boston's housing problem

There's a lot more restrictions on development than those that help drivers. The biggest problem is that developers can't build anything in Boston "as of right". They face uncertainty in everything they do, and everything they do is subject to political and bureaucratic manipulation. The city should rezone downtown areas en masse to allow unlimited height and density, remove parking requirements, remove requirements for neighborhood approval and developer "contributions" (bribes) to the neighborhood, and remove the requirement for "affordable" (subsidized) units in every building.

The fact that a developer had to sit down with the mayor and let him pick a building's crown is ridiculous. Write up a master plan that lets developers do what they want with fewer delays, restrictions, and favoritism, and stop making them subsidize and bribe, and this city will have tens of thousands of units under development within a few years.
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Old 11-26-2012, 12:19 AM   #55
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Re: Boston's housing problem

I think you're largely right, massmotorist, though I am not so keen on removing neighborhood groups entirely. The problem is that many of the horrors of the 50s and 60s were rammed through because there was no accountability at any level. The neighborhood "approval" idea was one way to stop the abuse. Sometimes the neighborhood suggestions are quite positive and helpful, too. So, while it's walking a fine line there between NIMBYism and productive feedback, I think there is a place for that, or maybe something similar in the process.

A lot of these issues would go away if development was done by many competitors instead of by a few monolithic companies as is the status quo. So, even if some developer screws up a bit on one property, it doesn't hurt the entire neighborhood much. Also, they have to compete on price, quality and features, which is good for consumers.
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Old 11-26-2012, 08:35 AM   #56
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Re: Boston's housing problem

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I think you're largely right, massmotorist, though I am not so keen on removing neighborhood groups entirely. The problem is that many of the horrors of the 50s and 60s were rammed through because there was no accountability at any level. The neighborhood "approval" idea was one way to stop the abuse. Sometimes the neighborhood suggestions are quite positive and helpful, too. So, while it's walking a fine line there between NIMBYism and productive feedback, I think there is a place for that, or maybe something similar in the process.
There's two problems. First off, the neighborhood groups become fiefdoms with only one power: the power of no. Second, while development (and lack of it) affects the whole city, only the local neighborhood has any influence over any particular development, and parochial concerns like traffic and shadows dominate their outlook. Allowing other groups in the city the right to comment or affect the process would be meaningless in practice, because only the locals will show up.

We too often underestimate the power of bribery. Instead of giving the neighborhood groups veto power as their sole purpose, have an automatic, temporary slush fund come out of the tax revenue from any new development - say, 5% of tax revenue from new developments for the first 3 years they are on the tax rolls - and let the neighborhood group control it. That's not a lot of money, but in practice it would be plenty to incentivize neighborhood groups and become some countervailing force against the bias towards no, and the bias towards reduced density.
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Old 11-26-2012, 10:53 AM   #57
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Re: Boston's housing problem

Giving the neighborhood groups control over such a fund would actually be a tremendous increase in their power over the status quo. Perhaps instead the revenue could be put into a local neighborhood improvement district (similar to Shoup parking benefit districts) to connect the idea of revenue increase to tangible local improvements. Another idea from Ryan Avent is that of the fixed zoning budget.

As someone who attends local groups, I frequently find myself on the opposite side of issues from most other attendees. And although they sometimes get attention from local media, their recommendations are often ignored as they are purely advisory. On the other hand, they provide a good outlet for some sentiment.

I would like it if the smaller players had more freedom as-of-right to build as they see fit. Because they must respond to competitive market pressures, and being small, they cannot do a tremendous amount of damage to the surrounding community on their own. But large institutions can and will do that kind of damage -- even unwittingly -- because they control so much land that they effectively cordon off a section of the city. And there's no competitive pressure or anything else to keep them reasonable.

Look at what Harvard's done to North Allston: they monopolize approximately half of the neighborhood. Their timescale is much longer than typical, so they think nothing of sitting on empty parcels for years or even decades. Meanwhile, the local residents have to deal with rats breeding in the empty land, and the lack of retail or any neighborhood amenities. They're not being unreasonable: they don't want Harvard to make Allston a dumping ground, and they want a real neighborhood with retail and things to do that don't shut them out. Would Harvard do this on their own? I don't know. But they aren't showing encouraging signs by dragging their heels and then showing up with a plan with lots of blank walls facing the neighborhood and that leaves a central parcel vacant for another ten years. To be fair they also try to respond to concerns and do have plans for a retail area, but I'm not sure what order things are going to get built, and whether this will pan out or they will suddenly "change plans" again.

Harvard is practically an autonomous institution unto their own, with little to no natural incentive to respond to the community. This is a lot different from someone who owns a plot of land, a building or a storefront and wants to make some changes or build some more. They have to work within the community and are dependent upon fitting in well. So within the constraints of public safety needs, I think they should have a lot of freedom to build as-of-right.
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Old 11-26-2012, 12:05 PM   #58
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Re: Boston's housing problem

What I've never been able to work out in my mind is how some such as myself, who is liberal in some (many) regards, has such a problem with affordable housing set-asides and rent control. I am a fan of Section 8 housing (but not a fan of public housing) so it's not a matter of not helping lower-income people find housing.

For some reason, I believe that building more market-rate housing will mean lower-priced housing will be available to more people since the rich will move to the higher-end, higher-quality housing.

I can't stand "affordable housing" set-asides, not because I'm a real estate agent who wants more market-rate housing so I can sell it, but because I don't think it helps anyone or solves any problems. It's popular politically, of course.

I haven't read any articles, papers, or books on this subject, at least from the point of view that it doesn't work; there are plenty of people who think it does.

If you look at the statistics, however, I think anybody would agree that this type of program fails in its goals.
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Old 11-26-2012, 12:51 PM   #59
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Re: Boston's housing problem

I don't like "affordable housing set-asides" either, and I especially hate rent control.

Ultimately it boils down to the observation that successful city neighborhoods are economically diverse neighborhoods. So how do you achieve that, other than by luck?

Obviously, public housing is a massive failure because it creates economically homogeneous blocs, a recipe for crime and unrest.

Affordable housing set-asides are a somewhat heavy-handed kludge that attempts to introduce economic diversity in a blunt fashion. They succeed on one hand by carving out some space, but they fail on the other hand by creating this friction between the market-rate tenants and the subsidized tenants.

Similarly, Section 8 vouchers can do a good job of bringing economic diversity, but are intrusive to landlords and demeaning to tenants.

I think the fundamental problem is that there aren't enough homes in places with good opportunities. Housing supply must be increased. All these affordable housing measures are flawed workarounds to that basic problem. But this is not a perfect world and never will be. And even though there's no perfect solution, I think a better solution would involve a voucher system that does not demean tenants, and does not provide perverse incentives to landlords. There should be no way for others to know that a particular person is receiving assistance.
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Old 11-27-2012, 01:47 AM   #60
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Re: Boston's housing problem

It's neoliberalism. Same goals and values as traditional liberalism, but injected with a whole lot more reality and facts.

The problem with rent control and mandating developer-subsidized housing (the term "affordable housing" needs to die a swift and painful death) is that it creates massive economic distortions, and it makes people think they can get a free lunch. Look no further than the complete and utter mess that is the NYC housing market to see its effects.

To get abstract for a second, the best way to economic growth, and maximizing the overall size of the economic "pie", is through freer markets. That's not to say there shouldn't be regulation to combat negative externalities - there should. But where possible, regulation should be replaced with taxation and other market-based solutions (cap-and-trade) to minimize distortionary effects and maximize economic efficiency.

It will be the case that a freer market results in the immiseration of certain people, often through no fault of their own. And it will also be the case that it will result in less economic security for the middle and lower classes. But once you're maximizing the overall economic pie, you can use taxation and redistribution to improve the safety net and increase the economic security of those who have done poorly. And in the end, the poor, middle class, and rich all end up better off than if we'd tried to regulate economic security instead of using taxing and spending to ensure it.

My case against rent control and developer-subsidized housing is simple: It makes us all poorer and strengthens the idea that much of this country has developed that public services and safety nets aren't worth paying for.
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