“If the city was full of one bedroom affordable units, that is
not going to solve the affordable housing issue.”
-- Boston Redevelopment Authority spokesperson responding to Boston Herald article concerning the South Boston Waterfront's actual affordable housing rate at 5%-9% of new housing stock, in contrast to BRA published projections of 13%-20%
The Double-counting of "Community Benefits"
On the South Boston Waterfront, most specifically in the Fort Point neighborhood, the Boston Redevelopment Authority is double-counting the production of affordable housing units. BRA presentations and plans suggest that the Fort Point / South Boston Waterfront area will be the beneficiary of "Community Benefits" garnered from area developers. At the same time, housing units provided in "Community Benefits" packages are being redirected off-site to a second Boston neighborhood which actually receives the benefit.
In fact, only a small fraction of affordable housing units presented by the BRA as a "Community Benefit" to Fort Point / South Boston are actually being produced. The South Boston Waterfront is being planned to bear the traffic impacts from burgeoning hotel and office space construction, while the "Community Benefits" packages flow away from Waterfront development projects for production of sorely-needed housing in other neighborhoods.
As for the actual figures, the BRA is approving far lower a percentage of affordable housing units than publicly suggested, and in at least one instance requiring no off-site component to make up for an on-site shortfall. When asked, the BRA repeated in a recent community meeting that its policy on 13%-20% affordability is absolutely firm -- despite the facts presented to them.
In a May 2006 presentation by the BRA, the agency presented its affordable housing projections as part of Fort Point / South Boston Community Benefits. The actual BRA slide is shown here:
SOURCE: Boston Redevelopment Authority 100-Acres Presentation May 2006
As shown above, the BRA states in its 100-Acres plan that "Community Benefits" include the projected production of 300 affordable housing units (at a rate of 13% of the total projected 2300 units).
The BRA's stated projections are even higher in the Fort Point 100 Acres Plan, published in August 2006. In the Final Draft, the BRA projects an affordable housing component of 15% to 20%. As written below, the 100-Acres Plan was approved yesterday by the BRA Board, and will be submitted by the BRA for approval of the State Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
An image capture of the plan being circulated by the BRA for approval is shown here:
SOURCE: Boston Redevelopment Authority 100-Acres Plan / August 2006
Similar estimates have been presented for production of affordable housing in the entire South Boston Waterfront. In June 1999, the Boston Globe reported:
"The mayor said he wants to see 4,000 units built over the next 10 years, with 20 percent of that priced below market rates. Creating more housing -- even luxury condos -- will ease the gentrification that is taking place in South Boston, he said."
-- The Boston Globe, 6/12/99, Anthony Flint, Globe Staff
The BRA's presentations and charts are misleading as to where the benefit of South Boston Waterfront development flows, creating an incorrect impression that Fort Point and the South Boston Waterfront will develop with affordable housing at 13%-20% of the area's residential buildout. The BRA does not disclose that the actual affordable housing component to be produced in Fort Point (and the South Boston Waterfront) is estimated at 5%-8% of the area's residential units.
The BRA does not indicate where the affordable housing units produced by Fort Point development will be created. In fact, the affordable units will not be created in Fort Point or on the South Boston Waterfront as implied. The BRA projection of 13%-20% does not clarify that it includes developer contributions to a general fund for the creation of affordable housing in other Boston neighborhoods.
What's more, actual projects -- approved by the BRA -- are producing off-site affordable housing units at significantly lower percentages than the agency's publicly stated figures.
Does affordable housing stock impact every resident?
Absolutely. Click here to read internal BRA research detailing how a failure to adequately plan for residential development will have negative impacts on Boston's tax revenues, traffic congestion, environment, economy, and the 24/7 vitality of a world-class waterfront. Due to a failure of residential growth and affordability, it is now expected that new Boston employees will to drive to Boston instead of living in Boston.
Is the vision of a critical mass of residential units on the South Boston Waterfront still a likely outcome?
No, and a 2005 report by SAND proves that prospects are poor.
As recent as 2001, it was entirely conceivable that Fort Point and the greater South Boston Waterfront would be populated with a critical mass of new residents (5000 housing units are typically expected to support a single supermarket) and a proportionate number of affordable housing units produced as a percentage of waterfront condos. A dearth of housing and lack of affordability threaten the vitality, health and economy of all of Boston's neighborhoods, including the South Boston Waterfront.
In reality, however, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's residential projections for the South Boston Waterfront have plummeted by 50% during the past five years of planning, rendering widely-held aspirations of a critical mass of residents living in and around the South Boston Waterfront highly improbable. Over the past three months of BRA planning alone, most notably in 11th hour changes to the agency's 100 Acre Plan, the agency has reduced its residential planning goals by 20% -- in a district already overwhelmed with commercial office space. Click here for Fort Point and here for the greater South Boston Waterfront to read more about market-rate residental planning shortfalls.
Equally troubling, the affordable unit production for the South Boston Waterfront is presently at 5%-9% of new residential development.
- Residential development projections, including existing and projected projects in the South Boston Waterfront, have fallen below a critical mass required for the evolution of a vibrant 24/7 neighborhood.
- Affordable housing production on the South Boston Waterfront is at 5%-9%, not 13%-20% stated by the BRA in its official planning documents.
- Off-site affordable housing production, funded through South Boston Waterfront development, is falling far short of BRA's stated projections in its official planning documents.
- Off-site affordable housing contributions are being counted as a "community benefit" in two separate neighborhoods.
Two major recent Fort Point residential projects, Berkeley Investments* and Archon/Goldman**, were approved with only a maximum 9% affordable component onsite -- far less than the BRA's stated numbers for Fort Point and Waterfront development. The remaining affordable component was made by Berkeley Investments as an "offsite" contribution to the BRA's general fund. These "offsite" units are double-counted as a "community benefit" -- once in the Fort Point affordable housing numbers (see above chart) and again in the community in which they are actually developed.
The Archon/Goldman condominium project was approved by the BRA with 8% onsite affordable component (7 of 87 units) and no offsite contribution. To read a Boston Herald article and SAND commentary regarding the Archon/Goldman units, click here.
While it is critically important for the City of Boston to draw funds from South Boston Waterfront development for the creation of affordable housing citywide, the BRA is reporting "Community Benefits" to the Fort Point / South Boston neighborhood that include the same affordable housing units as the BRA is providing as a "Community Benefit" to another Boston neighborhood. Affordable unit projections developed outside of South Boston (and used in other respective neighborhood projections) should not be double-counted as representive of new affordable housing creation in both neighborhoods.
To read a 2005 SAND report documenting the BRA's shortfall in planning for a critical mass of market-rate residential units throughout the South Boston Waterfront, click here.
* Berkeley Investments / Congress St.Condos: 8% affordable onsite, offsite contribution unknown
** Archon / Summer Street Condos.: 8-9% affordable onsite, no offsite contribution
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