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May 30, 2005

Bubble bubble toil and trouble: Babies R not us

Young parents are not sticking around MA, maybe because they can get a backyard elsewhere. Here's a Globe column from Charles Stein (thanks to Democrants):

Specifically, [demographer Peter Francese] doesn't see enough young people in our future -- especially young adults with children. We drive them away, said Francese, with our high housing prices, which are high, in part, because we refuse to build affordable housing suitable for young families. ''Our wounds are self-inflicted," he said.

... New England home prices go up, but relatively little new housing gets built to satisfy the demand. Francese puts the blame for that lack of production squarely on the shoulders of a cherished New England institution -- the fiercely independent town.

Towns don't want to build houses because houses contain children who will have to go to school, which will cost taxpayers in the town money. ''The last thing anyone wants is school kids," said Francese.

That last one hurts, doesn't it? If your town doesn't want to build your kid's family a house, and is stingy with your grandkids' education, why would your kids come back to raise them near you?

This may sound rather laissez-faire for a dyed-in-the-wool lib, but I really think we've got to revisit some zoning laws regarding affordable housing development, both the official state kind, and the market-driven kind. It's not surprising that people want to protect and preserve what they've got, including high property values, but there's a really heavy price being paid right now.

(Update: For a more expansive take on taxes, politics, real estate, and the effect on quality of life, see .08.)

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 06:24 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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It's a tough nut to crack. White flight brings the 20somethings out of the cities into the suburbs once they've got kids. Now, as the costs of the closer suburbs have gone sky high, they start looking farther and farther away.

But, who wants to commute 1 to 1.5 hours to work every day? So, what the hell -- why not just move to a different metro hub altogether? And, to make things even worse (for this lib), where are they moving? The South and West, in red states. Hey, maybe they'll turn 'em blue, but I doubt it. It seems more likely that they'll just increase the number of EVs in VA, NC, SC, GA, TX, LA, NV, AZ, etc -- lowering the EVs of MA, NY, CT, NJ, PA, MI, IL, MN, WI, etc.

If cities could figure out how to end white flight, blue states could grow much stronger. But, how to improve city education? I sure as hell have no idea, except to either (a) pour tons of money into it, with help of the state, or (b) somehow foster a tremendous number of good, inexpensive private schools. It's not clear that either would work even if gobs of money was poured in -- but I know I'd much rather raise my kids in the city... were it not for the schools.

Fix the schools, and cities can gain a much larger tax base, and actually grow in population -- which would do wonders for the entire state.

Posted by: stomv | May 31, 2005 7:34:19 AM

What is affordable housing and how do we build it? Do you mean subsidised housing for low income people or do you mean affordable housiong for familiues earning betweenn $50,000 - $100,000 a year. If big reason for cost in this market is location location location, how do we build affordable homes for middle class people in metropolitan Boston without some sort of government subsidy?
Whjat are we talking about here?

Posted by: The troll | May 31, 2005 9:50:49 AM


Excellent questions. Ultimately, the questions I have about families are:

1. Just how important is your own lawn, as opposed to a park within a few blocks?

2. Just how many cars must you own, if there is a subway stop within a few blocks? How about merely a bus stop within a few blocks?

3. Just how important is it to live in a house? A townhouse? A duplex? A condo? An apartment building?

I guess, I'm asking the following: are young married couples moving out of the city because (a) its too expensive, or (b) its too expensive to own a house and two cars, or (c) other reasons (good schools, etc)?

People usually cite (c) as a reason to move out, or (a), but I believe the real reason is (b). That is, schools are important, but I think the mindset of many Americans is that house ownership is "the American dream" and not home ownership.

If people are insisting on owning houses, then they've got to move to the suburbs... and then, suburbs even farther away (supply/demand). If, however, people want home ownership -- that is, are perfectly willing to own a family-appropriate condo, then the problem is obvious: there are far too few 3 or 4 bedroom condos that are built with anything less than the highest high-end finishes. That's where there's no affordable housing... there's no way to buy housing in the city (or even nearby suburbs) without either sacrificing schools or nighttime safety in the process.

The city needs to figure out how to induce developers to build 1000 solid, non-exotic 3 adn 4 bedroom condos spread across the city, not all in Back Bay or all in West Roxbury. I'd bet that even building 1000 condo units designed for "average" Boston young families would do wonders to stabilize real estate prices, serving both to help keep housing affordable and to put off the bubble bursting for a little while. A few thousand units? Forgetaboutit. It would be blissful.

Posted by: stomv | May 31, 2005 10:26:09 AM

Your questions are rhetorical stomv. I am not sure I want to live in a p[lace domionated by condo ownership. And what will thgese cost.
If you want to effect supply and demand then we need regulation. How do we do this stomv.
What happens when bubble bursts and these thousands of condos look like Moscow

Posted by: The troll | May 31, 2005 10:48:50 AM

If you want to affect supply and demand, then you need to provide incentives for either. stomv is exactly right -- we need a lot more supply of housing, and condos are a perfectly reasonable way to do it. My personal hobbyhorse is the model of Chicago, where all along the lakefront for miles there is plenty of decent high-rise housing, fairly cheap and plentiful. You've got to place them properly -- you're right, no one wants an Eastern-bloc kind of model, or Co-op city in NYC, for that matter. But we need to have both state-sponsored affordable housing *and* a free-market strategy.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 31, 2005 12:03:00 PM

Is the chicago high rise residence publicly subsidized in anyway? Huge tax breaks> hat is the incentive for the prop owners or is tyhe Chicago housingh market dictaing these affordable prices?

Posted by: The troll | May 31, 2005 1:48:52 PM

I think it's just a supply and demand issue. There's a lot of space in Chicago (you know, it's a prairie, after all), but there's just a ton of high-density housing near the lake. It's very expensive if you want to live downtown, but farther uptown (and perhaps a little farther inland) it's a lot cheaper than here.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 31, 2005 2:52:06 PM

I propose condos because they are (a) home ownership, and (b) space-efficient. Currently in Boston, condo carries a stigma of young childless people who wear suits to work and like to show off their money -- at least, it does to me.

The condos I'm thinking about aren't those. I'm thinking of what it sounds like Chicago has discovered. I'd also like to emphasize my thought that they shouldn't be centralized -- I'm imaging buildings of appropriate size and architecture for their neighborhoods. In my neighborhood (Kenmore/Fenway), we're talking about 5-10 story brickfront buildings, 2-4 bedroom, 2+ bathroom, and perhaps even underground parking. These would likely go for about $500,000 if build "no-frill", that is, with modern but not pricey appliances, finishes, flooring.

Condos just seem like the most efficient (space and cost) way to increase the home-ownership opportunities for young families in the city.

It still requires somebody figuring out how to deal with schooling though...

Posted by: stomv | May 31, 2005 4:33:10 PM

Single homes, 3 deckers, two family homes, wharehouses, old factories, and emplty lots are being converted to condos at a rapid pace all through metropolitan Boston.
I don't understand how we arrive at your utopia

Posted by: The troll | Jun 2, 2005 9:24:20 AM

Condos in Dorchester are going for $329.000 just for one floor in a triple decker. Working class people who grew up in in Dorchester can't afford to buy in their own neighborhoods. It costs $1200 to $1500 a month just to rent in a triple decker. With even Dorchester and Roxbury being overtaken by wealthy yuppies, where are the working class people going to go? Even Brockton and Lynn are getting pricey. Something is very wrong here.

Posted by: Pat | Aug 26, 2005 2:37:40 AM

Condos in Dorchester are going for $329.000 just for one floor in a triple decker. Working class people who grew up in Dorchester can't afford to buy in their own neighborhoods. It costs $1200 to $1500 a month just to rent in a triple decker. With even Dorchester and Roxbury being overtaken by wealthy yuppies, where are the working class people going to go? Even Brockton and Lynn are getting pricey. Something is very wrong here.

Posted by: Pat | Aug 26, 2005 2:40:15 AM

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