^^ Mayor Wu : lots of government activity, none of it of the least effect and some of it aggravating to the problem. What else is new ?
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This week a Commonwealth Magazine column proposed doubling the State’s transfer deed excise tax. The writers claimed this would raise $ 600 million, which — so they said — could be used, in part, to build “affordable” housing.
Who they kidding ? Themselves ?
I don’t care if you raise $ 60 billion. As long as Boston is the hub for bio-technology, and for the vastly over-priced educational behemoths that school the bio industry’s gluttonous salaries, housing in Boston will be way, way out of price reach for ordinary grunts — which comprises at least 80 percent of us. For us, there is no future except to leave.
As long as the bio boom goes on — and who would even think of wanting it to stop ? it brings to our City money so vast that even Long John Silver and his pirates would stop dancing on dead men’s chests and start buying leather yachts, $ 800 tomahawk steaks, $ 500 concert ticket goers, casino guests with unlimited credit, and buyers of grapefruit-colored designer sneakers — the cost of having a place to live will be veddy veddy pricey, mate.
That these instagram influencers and “content creators” of whom I speak — singles all, of course — might only stay here for a couple of years till they transfer to the next G start up, or to a trendy application shop of the moment, is no bar to $ 4000 to $ 8000 apartments: because as one class of glamor smarties leaves, another class comes to town. Call it the university-ization of Boston : move to town, earn barrels of money, live in dormitory-sized “units,” rent out another to air bnb, and then sail on — heck, even I, a local stiff who can barely pay my bills, know several lovelies who have done exactly this, or who will be doing it.
Perish forbid that our city might be governede by those who were born here, want to work here and stay here. that’s old fogey, man ! No one does that any more, only those biased old ethnics who micro-aggress people of color; who are glued to the old ways (such as honoring the murderer, Christopher Columbus); who are all racists anyway, right ? So why not price them out of the city they and their forbears came to, worked to exhaustion in, but could at least call home ? They’re obsolete, man ! So buy them out if you can, price them out if you can’t. See ya !
(Fun fact : it isn’t only the old ethnics who are being pushed or bought out. Most Bostonians of color also cannot afford the new prices. Many of these folks also have families, and the parents aren’t very happy, to say the least, with Boston’s schools. If they can’t get a kid into “Latin,” or a charter school, the suburban schools, with their better reputations, look most appealing; and so families of color — lots of them — are leaving Boston as well.)
But back to my main point:
As long as the university lifestyle– here for a couple, party and shop and live “off campus” : for what is a “unit” but an off-campus room, the “campus” being the app shop or bio lab in which the $ 250 k-a-year kids do their post-Ph.D researching ? — continues, real estate guys with banked money looking for action will buy up our old fashioned homes, and either renovate and condo them at vast profit, or else demolish them and erect “units” made of featureless crap. And as long as these real estate guys have impatient money — often using greed-sized lines of credit — to bet, sellers, being no fools, will demand insane prices — and get them. Wouldn’t you do the same ? I sure would.
So the land acquisition cost, which has quadruped since 2010, goes up more. likewise the cost of buying a working family’s house and demolishing it. And then ? Do you suppose that the developer will now build ordinary housing ? Hell no ! He’ll build for the most expensive audience he can afford to target. Heck, even in the suburbs, where actual families still live, the builders build elephant-size houses with twice the room space any ordinary family would ever want. You see them everywhere : vast piles with zero style devoid of grace but plump with gabled avoirdupois.
Meanwhile, the small homes — complete with lawn and driveway — built after World War II have passed into history. No one builds them any more. The only small houses that get built today are the micro-apartments favored by zoning reformers.
Climate zealots love the micro-apartments. They use little fossil fuel energy, and in keeping with the climate folks’ abhorrence of cars, they don’t have driveways.
Zoning codes ? No problemo, man ! Zoning rules were devised in the small home era, Not for us, right? We are PROGRESSIVE ! So city zoning boards dismiss zoning rules out of hand. Besides, how could you honor a zoning code that no builder will build to ?
But I digress.
What, then, could the $ 600 million excise tax revenue build ? The Commonwealth writers don’t explicitly say — though I can guess what they are thinking of — but it’s not hard to figure : they would channel that money through City and town governments to allot to builders via some sort of building permit covenant, such as what already are in place, where a builder would be required to offer a percentage of his “units” at ‘affordable” prices, whatever that night be. The current requirements range from 13 percent of units to 20 percent. I would imagine that the $ 600 million would push cities to require maybe 33 percent.
(Or we could hve “rent stabilization,” if Mayor Wu can fool enough legislators, who ought to know better.)
But back to my point.
Either that or cities would build entire quadrants of subsidized housing. Being subsidized, these units would be rentals only — or, if available for purchase, how would the City do so without bestowing upon the buyer a huge immediate value profit ? I have heard that some cities are offering buyers only a portion of the equity so as to negate the prospect of an immediate value profit at taxpayer expense. But how can such a device be legal ? And if it is legal, by what right does a city have the authority to own private, for sale housing and to withhold from a buyer value to which she is entitled ?
But let’s not go further down this guessing game road. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, whether planners and reformers like it or not. The ordinary working stiffs of Boston — and cities as captured as ours — are going to do one of the following : ( 1 ) double and triple up in what’s left of wring class housing ( 2 ) move far far away, like to Fall River or Holyoke, where housing costs one-third to one-fifth of Boston prices or ( 3 ) demand much, much higher hourly wages for the exhausting, vital grunt work that they do and without which the university researchers and instagram dolls could not exist for more than 24 hours.
My own guess is that there’ll be a little of all three. And that the concerns and living arrangements of those of us who must decide between these three options will be of no account to the politicians who cannot fund their increasingly overpriced campaigns except from those who have it (and we now now who they are, don’t we ?); but what we WILL get from the politicians who want our votes is a blizzard of tipsy promises and contradictory devices.
It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t going away.
I’ll also make another prediction : rents and buy prices will continue to get MORE expensive. Why ? Because they can.
—- Mike Freedberg