23 Linwood St

^ 23 Linwood Street in Fort Hill, Roxbury : the new Concord Square ?

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Much discussion has taken place these past three months concerning real estate prices in Roxbury. The discussion now extends to Mattapan, which lies directly South of Roxbury along Blue Hill Avenue.

I understand the concern that some long term Roxbury residents have for their housing future. For those who live here, sale prices and rents are rising much faster than income. The median income of Roxbury households amounts to about half that of Boston as a whole. The disparity will grow.

What is to be done ? I’m afraid I have no good answer. Every solution I’ve heard involves taking the value of real estate away from someone and giving it to someone else. I cannot support that, nor will it work. We’ve heard the arguments why long before : rent control leads to corruption and disinvestment. Affordable housing agreements overburden a community already hosting more than its fair share of such. The land use trust, a re4cent innovation, does no better. At some point the trustees are going to have a huge argument, as prices soar, between those who don’t — yet — want to sell and those who see the rewards and do.

The land use trust sounds good. Because the trust artificially directs a large portion of house value to the trust assets and away from individual units, the cost of such units seems affordable. As long as house prices do not appreciate enormously, the diverted value might not be missed by most. But what happens when the trust’s houses are worth three, four, five times what was paid at the time the trust was created ? Homes in Roxbury go for $ 400,000 to over $ 1 million. What happens when, in 20 years, the average price reaches $ 3 to 5 million, as is the case in the South End today ?

I think Roxbury residents had better get used to the prospect that in 20 years at most, maybe as little as six years, prices will at least double and rents will rise sharply too. This is a huge lottery ticket for long time homeowners, who have never had much (thanks in part to citywide racism). Fact is that new residents are coming into Roxbury every hour, changing the neighborhood — and, yes, raising its percentage of non-Black residents toward the tipping point, as happened in the South End from 1980 on. This change is going to upset many — already is — but if non-Black people,. who have by far most of the money, want to buy, very few owners are going to refuse to sell at a price few will want to refuse.

People troubled by this market force call it “gentrification,” a term heavy with pejorative. As if those who “gentrify” are, in some way, an opponent. I doubt that the “gentrifier” feels such., She probably enjoys the idea of a great house at a price one-quarter of that in the South End, or less, and likely enjoys the prospect of living in a diverse neighborhood. But to those who see “gentrification” arising — even as far away now as Mattapan, where activists term, certain streets “susceptible” to the process (I wonder what criteria they use to determine this ?) — the coming is of a storm: of unwanted changes no one seems to know how to stop.

Can Roxbury of the coming decades retain more than a very few of its current, Black residents ? For homeowners, the choice is theirs to make. For renters, the future looks grim. We need to raise the City’s minimum wage to $ 15/hour at least, and we need to build enough modest=-price condominium-type units so that supply exceeds demand. There really is no other way, other than to return the neighborhood to its 1975 state of abandonment, disrepair, and danger. That would lower every price quick and in a hurry : but of course no one wants that. So the riddle is, how does Roxbury accommodate renting residents who want to stay ? Subsidized housing may be the only workable answer; yet that too involves deferring real estate value into other, future hands.

Ultimately, this is a story about racism. No one laments that the population of Roxbury prior to the coming of people of color — people who lived here in, say, 1940 — has almost entirely left. No one laments the Hannas, Feltons, Kittredges, Quandts, Timiltys, Martins, O’Learys, Levitskys, McDonalds, Yunglings, Sciarappas, Candoras, Fitzgeralds, Currans, Magri’s, and Glynns — Latvians, Germans, Irish, Italians; even some Yankees — having decamped to West Roxbury and the South Shore, because they were white and had options. And because wherever they moved to, welcome was assured them. With today’s Roxbury residents it is different. Black Roxburyites can move, but who knows how welcome they will b e in the communities they may move to ? Meanwhile, welcome in Roxbury is not a problem; it’s their home. It is they who do the welcoming.

When Roxbury’s Black residents leave, as many are now doing either by choice or by no choice, even the well rewarded homeowners among them give up that assured welcome in exchange for a who knows what. This prospect can never be easy for people who know only too well that many non-Blacks will not welcome them as new neighbors.

That is the issue that will not go away and which gives some force to the fears being voiced these days about soaring real estate prices in Roxbury.

—- Mike Freedberg / Roxbury Here


  1. thank you for a well written explanation of the situation. You made me think differently, thank you. Bill Bates

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