Monthly Archives: November 2017

Suburbs add little housing

By Tim Logan
Globe Staff

Stop us if you’ve heard this one ­before:

Greater Boston is adding housing at a rapid clip, but really just in Boston and a handful of close-in cities. Most suburban towns aren’t building much at all.

And that dynamic, coupled with hot demand in a growing economy, is keeping home prices high and making it hard for young families to find a foothold in the housing market.

That’s the gist of the 15th annual Greater Boston Housing Report Card, which the Boston Foundation is publishing Tuesday.

The author of the longstanding study, Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone, may be forgiven for sounding repetitive. He has hit on some of the same themes in his last few annual reports — namely, that Boston is carrying the brunt of the region’s housing needs. Yet even so, working families are being priced out by graduate students and young professionals, while too little is being built in more-affordable areas.

“We’ve had real success in the city of Boston,’’ Bluestone said. “But permitting is actually down outside of Boston.’’

The report found that cities and towns around the region are on track to issue about 13,000 building permits for houses and apartments this year. That would be down 5 percent from the peak in 2015, but higher than in any other year in the past decade.

But more than four in 10 of those permits were issued by Boston alone, and the city’s share of the region’s construction has nearly doubled since 2012.

The administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh has made housing a top priority, with a goal 53,000 additional units by 2030. Boston officials rapidly cut down on the time they take to issue permits, the report said, with the average apartment building needing four months to get through the process, compared to 14 months three years ago.

And despite the flood of graduate students and young professionals drawn to universities and jobs here, the housing units that have been built over the past few years are starting to have an impact. The report is the latest to point out that rents have fallen slightly over the last year — though some critics say the decline means little to most residents, given the already high cost of housing here.

The bigger housing crunch right now is in the suburbs, Bluestone said. While a handful of towns — from Plymouth to Framingham to Chelmsford — have added large amounts of housing in the past few years, most towns near Boston have added very little, especially in the form of modestly priced apartment and condo buildings.

That’s a mistake, Bluestone said, and one that many towns will realize only when aging baby boomers want to sell their single-family homes but have nowhere smaller to move to. Those folks will either stay put, which will prevent needed housing from coming onto the market, or uproot entirely and leave the area for a lack of somewhere suitable to live.

This is an argument that Bluestone, the Boston Foundation, and other housing advocates have been making for years, with little change at the State House or in many town halls, where development decisions get made.

Business leaders have grown increasingly concerned that housing prices are an obstacle to economic growth in Greater Boston, and some worry that they would surge even higher should, for instance, Amazon decide to locate its massive “second headquarters’’ in Boston.

It’s past time, he said, for a concerted effort by political and business leaders to encourage the construction of more housing — of all types — in the suburbs.

“We need people to realize this housing is not about the unwashed masses coming to their town,’’ he said. “It’s for you, when you get old and want to stay in your community.’’

Bahamian Billionaire Acquires Boston Waterfront Parcels

A Bahamian investment company has acquired a 90 percent interest in two parcels for $10 million on Commercial Wharf in Boston’s North End, where it’s signaled an interest in a “complex redevelopment plan” including the nearby Joe’s American Bar & Grill restaurant site.

Founded by 80-year-old British businessman Joseph Lewis, whose net worth is pegged by Fortune at $5.7 billion, Tavistock Group owns hundreds of companies and properties globally, including the Premiere League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur. Lewis’s 250-foot yacht, the Aviva, was spotted docked at the neighboring Boston Yacht Club marina in 2013, according to a North End Waterfront report.
Tavistock Group acquired two properties at 88-89 and 90-91 Commercial Wharf East on Nov. 8. The parcels totaling 15,834 square feet contain a pair of mixed-use buildings.

Atlantic Waterfront LLC, a company affiliated with Tavistock Managing Director Jefferson Voss, paid $5.6 million in 2011 for a 9,109-square-foot parcel at 100-104 Atlantic Ave., which contains the Joe’s American Bar & Grill restaurant.

Tavistock’s website states the company has a “complex redevelopment plan” in store, including redevelopment of the existing restaurant and new public spaces and walkways connecting to the Commercial Wharf Pier and Christopher Columbus Park.

The wharf also includes the separately owned 100-slip Boston Yacht Haven Inn & Marina property, acquired by Newburyport developers Charles and Ann Lagasse in 2007. The Lagasses renovated the inn’s guest rooms and added 30 slips capable of accommodating mega-yachts up to 225 feet, according to published reports.

Does building homes crowd schools?

From Tim Logan of The Boston Globe

It’s long been a truism thrown about during suburban housing debates: More homes in a town means more kids in the schools.bus

But is it true?

The regional planning agency, which generally advocates for more suburban housing development to counter the high housing costs in Greater Boston, combed enrollment data for 234 school districts across the state and found no correlation between growth in the number of housing units and growth in the number of students in public and charter schools.

Indeed, the MAPC found that school enrollment fell from 2010 to 2016 in most districts in Greater Boston, with an overall drop of 2 percent.

Enrollment was down 7 percent in 23 “developing’’ suburbs, such as Ipswich and Franklin, and 3 percent in 43 “maturing’’ suburbs, including Acton and Braintree.

But it grew 7 percent in 16 districts at the core of the region — including Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Arlington, and Watertown — as many of those municipalities attracted more families.

In most cases, the MAPC argues, this all has little to do with housing development.

Hopkinton, for instance, added 935 housing units from 2010 to 2016 — an 18 percent increase in its housing stock — but its schools added only eight students. Meanwhile, Revere’s student population grew by almost 20 percent, with virtually no new building.

“There is little real connection between housing growth and student growth,’’ said Marc Draisen, the MAPC’s executive director. “Yet impact on schools is one of the biggest arguments we hear against new housing in many communities.’’

It’s a common refrain in a variety of places. Some Brookline officials, for instance, pointed to growing school enrollment last year as an argument to halt affordable-housing development. Fierce debates have flared up from Cambridge to Plymouth over whether schools can absorb large numbers of newcomers moving into condominium and apartment developments.

Towns that do have growing student populations tend to be close to job centers and fall into one of two categories, the report says.

Some have strong school districts, which make them attractive to affluent families, who bid up home prices — places like Brookline, Lexington, and Lincoln. Those towns could use more housing to meet the demand, the MAPC says. Others — including Everett, Revere, and Lynn — have lower test scores but are relatively affordable.

Most towns, however, have aging populations and relatively stable prices. They have added some housing but few if any students, as baby boomers’ children have aged out of schools, while younger families have been slow to move in.

There’s not much reason, Draisen said, to believe a little more development will flood the schools with children they can’t support.

“Building apartments is not what causes kids,’’ Draisen said.