^^ so many unused manufacturing buildings in a City now on the verge of bringing manufacturing back — thank goodness !
No one can know the future, but quite often it offers a few clues to what is coming.
In Boston as of today — late February 2023 — there are some: first, the bio-technology boom has ended. Fewer discoveries are in process. Second, more people are leaving Massachusetts than coming. Third, there is now significant, and growing, push back against the Boston envisioned by the City’s planners (and many nonprofit groups) these past several years. More about this later.
Perhaps the most impactful clue is that our grossly over-invested real estate market has turned its corner and is falling. Both rents and asking prices for sales are giving ground. There’s also much more apartment availability today than at this time last year.
This slide has enabled quite a few renters and buyers to qualify who last year were told “no dice.”
At the same time, the City is moving to purchase quite a chunk of traditional three-decker buildings in which people of modest incomes live until recently under threat of displacement. In East Bostonl, 144 tenancies will now be protected, by a land trust agreement, from investor eviction. (It’s another question engtirely what happens to those units when and if their current occupants move out, and this is an issue for another day.)
Mayor Wu is also moving to have the legislature approve her limited rent control measure, which would affect chiefly the sorts of obese-size, overpriced density boxes that have gone up all over Boston’s close-in neighbo0rhoods and which have made developers and their servants rich as Croesus. Any form of rent control leads to seriously negative consequences (we who lived through Boston’s rent control 1970s know them all), but the first consequence seems good : developers can no longer arbitrage our neighborhoods out of existence by converting them to profit cash.
Personally, I think Mayor Wu’s rent control move is unnecessry. I think the changed market will accomplish everything she hopes for and more. As acquisition and construction costs will not decrease, a 20 percent haircut in the rent price and sale price markets will make developer profits impossible or almost — most real estate ventures relly on 65 to 75 percent bank financing.. If a denveloper / speculator neds a ten percent profit margin to be sure of cashing out, a 75 percent loan in a 20 percent price cut market shaves him to the skin. Even a 65 percent financing cuts seriously close.
Yet a changed real estate market is hardly the only reversal at hand in Boston. Just as significant are (1l) changed sentiment about the bike lane movement that wants to limit access by moorists to major streets (2) serious — and justified — opposition to planned cut backs on available on street parking ( 3 ) folks who understand full well that they and their freedoms are the target of locked and loaded climate activists.
On twitter you find these motorists’ rights groups as well as “critical urbanists” who do NOT favor “skippable streets” (as one kooky no-cars City Councillor in another city put it); These groups make a very compelling argument. After all, we who drive cars are at least 80 percent, if not 90, of everybody who lives and/or works in Boston. It takes a lot of chutzpah for a planner, or an activist, to push us out of their plan picture. Yet until recently, articulate opposition was hard to find to the planners’ transit-uber-alles density vision. (I have supplied some here in this blog, but it’s been a lonely slog.) Not so today. Organized motorist groups have formulateed a counter much more comprehensive than my ad hoc complaints.
What they call for is a return to prioritizing highways and de-emphazing public transportation, citing the figures : far, far more of us drive than require public transportation. As I hav ebeen saying : publicly financed transit is our obligation as a society, to those who cannot drive or cannot afford to put a car legally on the road, BUT THAT IS ALL that our obligation is. The bulk of our transportation tax dollars must go to maintaining and even renewing our highways, bridges, and streets.
And at last, Federal policy is on our side. President Biden’s call for bringing back manufacturing (and manufacturing jobs) to America envisions an entirely different economy than the small shop, high tech beehives we have lived by these past twenty years or more. And the bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden helped shepherd to passage brings huge swaths of Federal dollars to renewing our bridges, streets, and highways and thus to the jobs that perform this work.
This is a significant change of direction in favor of the vast majority away from a very lucky very few.
Our economy since the late 1990s has been geared almost entirely to the very lucky very few : the financiers, real estate boomers, high tech shops, colleges, and investment managers who have drawn Midas level salaries and voluminous stock option windfalls in an economy in which basic manufacturing and skilled trades have seen jobs whisk away overseas. We in Boston have witnessed this transformation. A city which in 1980 was locally-born working class has become a city of incoming technology whizzes. (I have nothing aginst whizzes, but their whiz craft cannot be the only path to a neighborhood or city life.) Now that phase may be ending as Biden’s manufacturing and infrastructure economy digs deep.
The new Biden economy is also generating — finally — a serious push for revitalizing trades education and union membership. It was only ten years ago that a Tea party Republican assured me that unions were obsolete. Not now, they aren’t ! As for trades education, people have talked about it for decades, without denting the college ideal much. But people see, at last, that skilled trade folks earn a dam good paycheck, where college kids often find burdensome loan debt. Wherever you stand on forgiving student loans, it is clear that they are musts for many to avoid, especially when trades folks earn big pay without tapping a dollar of college finance.
The salaries of higher education administrators have ballooned just as illogically as those of fianciers. Some college adminitrators now take million dollar incomes. Why ? To what end ? If college is for many, a waste of time, what is the vast salary structure of it but insupportable institutional welfare ?
Look : I’m a Princeton grad and proud of my university. But when I went, in 1958 to 1962, tuition was $ 10,000. Today it is over $ 70,000, At some colleges it’s more than $ 100,000. Why ?
To sum up : big economic changes are coming to Boston — and to America as a whole. It’s long overdue. Whatever you may think of Trump voters, they are making one super loud protest against things as they are. Their social views may be anathema, but their economic arguments make much sense.
I am glad that President Biden is focused on bringing back jobs and production to our forgotten cities — and maybe even to Boston, which 50 years ago had a ton of manufacturing in place — you can see the boarded up or repurposed factory buildings all over Hyde Park, lower Roxbury, an d sea side Dorchester, Charlestown, and East Boston. It is way past time to give these factories new manufactures, new jobs — as well as the roadways that bring driver workers to work five days a week and the parking lots that host them.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere