1 seaport housing1 hyde park houses

affordable housing ? Not in Boston. Lots of the photo on the left, almost none of the photo on the right

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Most of us agree that housing is a human right. But how to bring it about ? Because housing is not free, having it is not automatic for everybody. There should be no such phrase a “homeless person,” but there is.

There also shouldn’t be any riddle is, how to find housing that one can afford that’s also safe and, or not a two hour commute from where I work ? So what do we do about it ?

It’s easy to find affordable housing, but almost all of it, at least in Massachusetts, lies distant indeed from everything else in one’s life. Or it can be had by moving away from where one lives out to where the affordable housing beckons. For most, that’s not an option. Why should one have to move away from family and friends ? Why can’t we have affordable housing where we already live and work ?

There are two ways to bring that about. One is to impose rent control. Boston tried that 40 odd years ago. It didn’t work. The other way is to build so much housing that rent prices (and sale prices for buyers) decline over time. This method, we are beginning to try. I doubt that it will work either.

Land acquisition costs are what they are : in Boston, hugely high. As for rents, what landliord is going to ask less rent than the market accords him ? And waht home builder is going to sell for less than he feels a buyer will pay ?

Building affordable housing means defying the market. Boston’s economy is working quite well for those who earn a six-figure income, and because many affluents now want to live in center city — or as close to center as they can get — rents and sales prices have risen higher and higher; even during the 2007 – 13 real estae market collapse, center city sales prices rose without a break.

The City can require a developer to offer a portion of his planned living units at a price agreed to be “affordable” — more on this term later — but nothing can prevent that “affordable” unit from moving up in price as the market moves up.

Well meaning, or politically smart developers are now winning BRA approval for projects of this mixed-price type. Neighborhoods like them. We’ll see how long they survive as such.

Ultimately, the only event likely to establish a supply of “affordable” housing is for people with six figure incomes to change their living habits; to move out of the city, as happened after World War Ii, leaving center city with a huge inventory of vacant apartments and unsold residences. Right now, the opposite is happening.

And what, exactly, does “affordable” mean ? For people with six figure incomes, a $ 3,000 monthly rent, or an $ 800,000 condo price, is affordable. Can you handle that ? I know that I can’t. I don'[t meaaure up. Clearly, in a political context, “affordable” means “housing for those who people who, like me, don’t measure up.”

We can create housing with prices susidized (by Federal programs accessible via HUD, for example), but such housing rapidly acquires a neighborhood identity as such, amd as those who live in such housing are perforce visibly lower income than people who live nearby in “market rate” housing, subisdized housing becomes ghetto-ized, socially if not racially.

Or we can continue to tolerate having the Boston area’s “affordable” housing be 30, 40, 60, 80 miles away, forcing those who have to worry about “affordability” to endure commutes of up to two hours (and more) each way, to get to work, with the added transportation costs long travel imposes.

Mayor Walsh has called for Boston to add as many as 53,000 units of “affordable” housing in the next decade. He may well achieve the number, but how will he keep it in place ? The only ways that I can foresee Boston becoming hospitable to ‘affordable” housing are — to repeat myself — for the city’s economy to decline, or for people to once again decamp to leafy suburbs as happened after World War II.

Boston today is a luxury wallet’s dream. It is hot, it is trendy, it is gleaming with well off young professionals and those who service their high-end desires. If you can’t cope, you will simply have to find some other way — and all the wishes and hopes of well-meaning politicians can do nothing about it.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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