^ Councillors Tito Jackson, frank aker (chairman), Matt O’Malley and Josh Zakim heard testimony on the City’s 40,000-unit affordable housing initiative. In the gallery, City Life activists in yellow T-shirts.
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Yesterday the City Council’s subcommittee on Housing heard from several witnesses at “Part 2” of its foray into Boston’s most difficult contradiction : the need for “affordable” housing and how to make it happen. I put “affordable” in quote marks because interested parties cannot even agree, out loud, on what constitutes affordability.
Actually, we all know what is meant when advocates say “affordable.’ They mean housing that people earning smallish incomes — how small ? smaller, I guess, than the incomes of Boston’s “new” people — can pay for. Ad here begins the contraction inherent : because by “affordable,’ advocates mean housing that costs less than the current market accepts. Thus, housing paid for at least in part by some form of taxpayer subsidy. In other words, housing that is at least in part, public housing.
The contradictions do not end there. The advocates for “affordable” housing — and there were hundreds at the Council hearing — don’t want tenancies, they want ownership. They want housing with all the normal amenities — who doesn’t ? But how to do that ? how to give those who want “affordable” housing homes that they don’t fully have to pay for ?
To put it differently, who will pay the difference between what advocates are willing to pay and the actual price of said housing ?
Many methods of providing such housing were profferred at the hearing, some wiser, some quite unwise, some superficially nice but with deadly consequences. All amount to public housing. One suggestion — the “community” land trust — resembles the mobile home park concept. All involve a huge transfer of market pricing from those who can pay it to those who can’t.
Many of the suggestions entail huge hurt. How, for example, do we explain to the elderly Roxbury homeowner who, never having had much money in his or her life, now finds that his or her home — probably without a mortgage — is worth a million dollars, or more and that he or she can cash that million out to a “gentrification” buyer, that his or her house is now worth less because the neighborhood has been targeted for vast tracks of subsidized “affordable” housing ?
Or, to cite another example, the so-called “just cause” eviction law that advocates want, how do we tell the owner of rental housing that since a buyer who can’t evict the tenants isn’t likely to buy at all, that his hitherto very valuable real estate is now worth much, much less ? Real estate whose taxes he has paid and whose repairs and maintenance he has made, maybe at great cost ?
As for the “Community” Land Trust concept : is there really a market for buying homes that do not own the land they are built on, where resale prices are restricted — despite a booming market — by the trust instrument and where the actual land — now likely worth much more than the homes built on it — is owned by the trust’s beneficiaries and can be sold out from under, by a vote of those beneficiaries, at any time ?
If we are going to advance home ownership for those with smallish incomes, how dare we promote this sort of shell game ? Let the homeowner own the land on which his or her house is built !
The Council’s hearings on “affordable housing will continue. So will the discussion, of evictions and market rents, lottery-win house prices, “gentrification” and “displacement.” We have heard ot all before. We heard it in the 1970s, when Roxbury housing was cheaper than cheap (minne was $ 35 a month, on Fort Avenue, no less), if you were willing to live in unrenovated flats with hospital-green walls, where electric lightbulbs dangled flammably from the ceiling; with only a gas stove to heat the bedroom; with door locks easily jimmy’d — in a neighborhood rife with all manner of crime : twice I had my car stolen.
We heard it in the 1980s, when the first housing boom arrived and, with mortgages now available — early in the 1970s Roxbury was “red-lined” except by John Bynoe’s Progressive Credit Union– everyone who could sell, sold.
We hear it now.
Rioxbury housing is no longer cheap. Most of it is no longer “affordable.”‘ there is much “gentrification” — the term used to mask simple racism : where are all these white-ies coming tom ? There is also displacement, because, yes, many Roxbury residents cannot afford the $ 2,200 to $ 4,200 rents now found in 02119 zip code postings at zillow.com and trulia.com. ut in Roxbury today there is also much renovation of homes, some new home building, and — thanks, let’s admit, to the greater political and economic power that well off Whites command — vastly more clout for all of our community at City Hall.
Roxbury might even now be able to absorb the money transfer cost of subsidizing liveable below-market housing for many residents, without creating a Stigma Block or a mobile home park, without imposing hard-to-evict rules on landlords, without losing the market boom that has brought a bonanza to long-term home owners and thus made Roxbury a dynamic, innovating place in which many businesses now rush to locate.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere