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Good government mission for the affordable housing consumer.

BEVERLY Studio floorplan

The City of Boston can rightfully brag that it does better than most cities in the US when addressing the need for affordable housing inventory,

Take this message contained in the Boston Mayor’s State of the City 2019 speech where he said …

” We are committed to leaving no one behind. In Boston we’ve created more affordable homes than any time on record. We’ll create 1,000 new homeowners in the next five years by building more affordable homes and providing more financial help. We’ve housed over 1,600 chronically homeless people. A year ago we launched the Boston’s Way Home Fund and set a goal of raising $10 million over 4 years for supportive housing. After just 1 year, we have already raised $5 million.”


Housing policy wonks say the claim rings true, that Boston has put a larger “percentage of affordable rentals” on the market than most other cities of its size in the U.S, in recent years.

But the devil is in the details.

Politics is about the control of limited resources.  Land and money are limited resources. It takes both to create a housing unit, be it an expensive luxury apartment building or an affordable building of similar size.

And because land and money are limited, there may or will NEVER be enough affordable housing to meet everyone’s need in urban areas. Let’s face it. A substantial number of people have limited incomes. Its just the way it is.

What a housing lottery really is

A democracy is a hard thing to administer, therefore its political leadership invented THE HOUSING LOTTERY as an attempt to be fair.  This works for a lot of people. But when there are 6,000 applicants for a workforce priced building unit that has  200 openings, then the policy has not worked for 5,800 people who applied for the units.

The Beverly building
workforce priced housing in downtown Boston

This was the case at THE BEVERLY, a downtown Boston building near the North End that demonstrates an interesting way to fairly treat the pre-qualified affordable housing consumer. See chart below for the affordable rental rates in that new modern complex.

The Beverly’s affordable-housing units were offered in a housing lottery to households with annual incomes of $17,578 to $60,000, according to the developer. Rents were to start at $492 a month depending on income. It is a LUXURY apartment building complex that has 239 units. It offered 66 Affordable Price units in chart below.

Numbers like these are repeated at most Housing Lottery opportunities. But there is good news in the mix. When a building full of condos for sale to the income-restricted went to market with 11 available units, only 18 lottery applications were received by management.

Eleven people won a unit of 18 that applied. Probably, some of those 18 applications were rejected for technical reasons as they usually are.

 We spoke to one of the winners – a coffee shop manager in the Seaport. He said when it put in his application he didn’t expect to win,  but he thought “what do I have to lose” he said. The move enabled him to save hundreds of dollars a month less the going market rate. 

The $5 billion city plan

If Boston had won the Amazon Headquarters II  deal opportunity that plan called for the new construction of housing to meet the needs of  50,000 employees.  AMAZON valued the deal at $5 Billion 

Do you want to know who was going to build that new housing?  Guess no more, we have the document.
Click here to read it.

This writer would like to think that a BEVERLY-like solution with the scale of the Amazon buildout can be constructed.  The Affordable Housing industry uses a rough figure of $400,000 each to build a unit to meet standard requirements in urban areas. That cost is all inclusive of land, construction materials, finance cost, labor and all that. 

If it cost $400,000 a unit and there are 50,000 people looking to access affordable housing at the BEVERLY  income ranges stated above, then there is cash to work with. It would cost $20 Billion to build 50,000 affordable price units. 

The Beverly rent rates
at the 2018 lottery closing

Would an extra 50,000 affordable housing units take the pressure off? You bet it will! If you divided the $20B construction cost of 50,000 new units by the 50,000 people now in the market looking for a unit, you’ll arrive at a figure of $40,000 per person.

This simple math can be looked at any way you want, but from the calculations,  there appears to be enough regular cash flow coming from 50,000 renters to pay off the $20B construction cost, while holding tenant monthly housing cost to an amount no more than 40% income all inclusive. The Beverly affordable rent range started at $492/mo and ended somewhere north of $2,000 per unit scaled to income.

Eminent domain property taking is necessary to put up a new apartment complex of this magnitude. Boston mayors have unusual powers. They are tremendous.  

What does financing $20B over 15 years look like? Chances are with all the rent coming in against it, there would be a profit to be taken that can pay for building a few more 50,000 affordable unit packages where they need to go.  Look around Boston, don’t disturb the greenspace and figure how to do it. 

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