Want to know why Boston's home prices and rents are so high? Look 50 miles to the west, to Vicksburg Square in Devens. So says CommonWealth magazine's Paul McMorrow in a Globe op-ed this morning.
For two years, a private Boston-based developer, Trinity Financial, has been trying to build 246 apartments, most for veterans, seniors and families making working-class incomes, at the site of an old Army barracks that once housed 9,000 people. The site is perfect not only because it's been vacant for 15 years and because, well, if it could house 9,000 people, it could house that much fewer, but because it also sits near an active rail line and a jobs hub. Voila smart growth!
The problem is that the old Army barracks is controlled by three different towns—Harvard, Ayer and Shirley—and each town has its own issues with the Trinity development plan. Long story, short: a modest plan to build much-needed housing at a vacant site that once, um, housed much more housing has turned contentious and complicated and worthy of a -gate after something (so here goes: Devensgate). McMorrow sees in Devensgate the sort of rigmarole that precludes more residential development throughout Massachusetts, but especially in the more expensive Hub.
States that build housing grow jobs, while states that don’t build housing don’t grow. The inability to add to the state’s supply of housing also explains why apartment rents around Boston have hit record highs in the middle of a deep economic slump. If Trinity is having difficulty building 246 new apartments on an old base that used to house 9,000 people, where, exactly, can anyone build around here? Where, indeed? The more pressing question might be how soon, as the commonwealth seeks to capitalize on the economic recovery and compete with cities like New York and Providence for jobs, jobs, jobs. Pricey micro-apartments just ain't going to solve things.
Over 40 percent of the households in the state make less than $50,000 per year—the rough cutoff point for Trinity’s affordable Devens development. A quarter of all renters in Massachusetts are devoting at least half their income to just making rent. Half of the state’s renters are now paying unaffordable rents, a number that’s up dramatically from 10 years ago. In Harvard, one in every three households struggles with the high cost of housing. These aren’t problems for poor towns or rich towns. And they won’t be solved by stonewalling development. · Barracks Ready-Made for Housing [Globe]
· Will Manhattan Rents Fly in South Boston? [Curbed Boston]