The Community Preservation Act: Yes! on 5

Yes!Most public and media attention to the questions that will appear on our ballots next Tuesday has focused on questions 1 through 4. But for WalkUP Rozzie and many allied organizations, Question 5 has the greatest impact potential. We need your help in spreading the word (both via social media and in the real world)!

On November 8th, Boston voters have the opportunity to secure a lasting investment for local parks and open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing. The Community Preservation Act (CPA), which will appear as Question #5 on the ballot, is your opportunity to improve quality of life in Boston by helping the city:

  • Build and improve parks, playgrounds, trails, and gardens – including greenways that make up the Emerald Network
  • Acquire land to protect water quality and reduce climate change impacts
  • Restore and preserve historic buildings, and rehabilitate underutilized resources
  • Create thousands of new, affordable homes for seniors, families, and veterans

Currently, too many people in Boston lack adequate access to parklands and open space. WalkUP Roslindale strongly believes that safe, enjoyable streets, parks, and neighborhoods should not be a privilege afforded to some, but a right guaranteed to all. It’s time to invest in a better, more equitable Boston.

Through CPA, the City of Boston has an opportunity to generate over $20 million every year in dedicated funding to create and improve parks, restore historic sites, and build new affordable homes throughout Boston’s neighborhoods.

Thanks to our friends at Livable Streets Alliance for help with this copy. See also the Yes on 5 website and this well-written column from Adrian Walker at the Boston Globe in support of the measure.

Taft Hill Project Approved by Zoning Board of Appeal

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

We’ve discussed the proposed Taft Hill development several times here and we support the project. This afternoon, the proposal, which requires numerous zoning variances (among others, the project provides 1.0 rather than the required 2.0 parking spaces per unit), was heard by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal and unanimously approved. Several WalkUP Roslindale members spoke in favor of the project, as did representatives from the offices of the Mayor, City Councillor Michelle Wu, and City Councillor Tim McCarthy. No one at the hearing opposed the project. We expect the developer to break ground this spring.

Welcome to Parkside on Adams

ros2.jpgWe were happy to learn today that Parkside on Adams is finally open with tenants moving in, and welcome these new Roslindalians with open arms.

This development brings badly needed rental housing, including some affordable units, to the central business direct. While we dream of improved walkability everywhere in the neighborhood, from East Roslindale to Metropolitan Hill to the Longfellow Area and beyond, the area adjacent Adams Park and the core business area is particularly critical for increased density, walkability, and hence vitality.

One notable bit from yesterday’s news story: “Parking is an extra $125 a month.” This may be the first instance of “unbundled” parking in a new Roslindale development and we hope to see more: if developers provide “free” parking as an amenity with residential units, (1) those units will necessarily be less affordable; and (2) purchasers or renters will be motivated and incentivized to own a car (and thus use it) since they’ve already effectively paid for it. By allowing parking to be purchased/rented separately (and by the month), this development gives new residents the option to do what makes most sense for them. Rather than pay $125/month for parking, the new resident can put the same money toward transit: $75/month for an MBTA LinkPass[1] , with $50 left over for Uber, Lyft, and/or bicycle maintenance, not to mention the substantially greater monthly savings in insurance, excise tax, gas, maintenance, etc.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Along these lines, we’d love to see the Commuter Rail pass from Roslindale closer in price to the LinkPass, to further encourage a more pedestrian-oriented and less car-centric neighborhood.

Taft Hill Park Proposal Takes a Step Forward

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

We blogged about the proposal for 19 new residential units on Taft Hill Park (directly adjacent to the city’s public parking lot) a couple of months ago, shortly before the BRA’s public meeting on the developer’s small project review application. And we followed that up with a letter during the comment period. Just this week, small project review concluded with the BRA Board’s approval at their meeting on Thursday, along with five other projects indicative of the current pace of development in Boston. In WalkUP Roslindale’s view, this is the right result. In our comment letter, we expressed overall support for the location and the thoughtful way the developer was taking advantage of the highly transit-accessible and walkable location, while offering our suggestions on certain aspects of the developer’s proposal. The next step for the proposal will be to proceed with the process for obtaining the zoning relief (specifically, variances) needed under the zoning code. This will likely mean another community meeting and then the required hearing before the Board of Appeal. We will continue to follow the proposal and how our suggestions are ultimately responded to. Look for updates here as this proposal continues to work its way through the review and approval process.

Official WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter – 20 Taft Hill Park

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

Today, we sent another comment letter on a proposed development in Roslindale Square. The project is a 19-unit condominium complex a few yards away from the commuter rail station and the business district. Because we believe this sort of transit-oriented development will contribute to a more walkable and vibrant neighborhood, and particularly in view of some of the developer’s creative pro-WalkUP proposal elements (dedicated bicycle storage, car-share service credits, and support for the Roslindale Arboretum Gateway Path initiative), we generally support the project. There is still room for improvement, however, as detailed in our full comment letter below.

We hope many of you will agree with some if not all of the points made below. Either way, however, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

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Umbrellas Don’t Cause Rain

Umbrella Not Causing Rain

Umbrella Not Causing Rain

Notable economics writer Matt Yglesias provides a pithy analysis of the relationship between housing prices and construction in his newsletter published today. Yglesias writes:

I observed on Twitter the other day that there’s a shockingly widespread belief that banning new construction will prevent increases in the price of housing, and that lead to some pushback that was more interesting than I’d anticipated and is worth addressing specifically.

Umbrellas don’t cause rain

But before getting into the specific points, I do think it’s worth focusing on the core fallacy that drives some of this. People look around and see that in neighborhoods where prices are going up, there’s generally highly visible new construction — cranes putting up largish buildings — and think the construction is driving neighborhood change.

This is a bit like thinking that umbrellas cause rain because every time you see everyone carrying them it rains.

Construction — especially of high-rise buildings — is expensive and people are only going to do it in places where demand is high and prices are on the rise. By the same token, brand-new construction commands a price premium so the just-built thing always targets a more upscale market than the average neighborhood resident. Your city’s stock of cheaper housing consists almost exclusively used to be new but aren’t anymore. But the presence of new expensive buildings isn’t making older buildings more expensive. It’s the fact that older buildings are getting more expensive that leads people to build new buildings.

Yglesias then goes on to explain why banning new projects won’t achieve the goal of preserving a neighborhood’s character or preventing gentrification and the rise in housing costs.

As we engage as a community to debate construction proposals in and around Roslindale, we would be well advised to keep this insight in mind.

Housing as Economic Imperative

WBUR reports today on a Metropolitan Area Planning Council presentation to state lawmakers on the dire need for housing supply to sustain the economy:

By 2040, Massachusetts will need about half a million additional residential units, analysts told lawmakers Tuesday as they advocated for increased housing production to go along with the state’s growing economy.

Metropolitan Area Planning Council assistant data services director Tim Reardon said most of this housing demand will be in urban areas, and two-thirds of it will be for multifamily housing, a type of development limited or discouraged in much of the state.

(emphasis added).

We recognize that development to accommodate new residents is often a controversial topic — in Roslindale and just about everywhere else in Greater Boston. Even where people recognize the crisis in general, they would much prefer that the solution happen somewhere else. But the need is there and the development will happen whether we like or not.

We do, however, have a critical choice to make: are we going to add another million cars to our already fully maxed out transportation infrastructure (2 cars per new housing unit) — another three or four million free parking spaces[1]? An extra hour (or two) added to the car commute downtown from inner ring suburbs?

Or we can go in another direction, and build with a dedicated focus on pedestrian/bike/transit access, and enhance all those other modes of moving around so that people who prefer not to be stuck in a motor vehicle for hours a day aren’t forced to.

Development, walkability, and vibrant streets and communities all can go hand-and-hand. Rather than fight to stop every new project, we believe we should speak up to make every new project better for the community. We’re working on some development principles that we think will advance this goal, and hope our neighbors will join us in refining and then advancing those principles.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Land-use planner Victor Gruen estimates that every car has at least one parking space at home and three or four waiting elsewhere to serve the same car; Centers for the Urban Environment: Survival of the Cities, 1973, page 89; Further info: Podcast on the Gruen Effect

First Official WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter – 100 Weld Street

Sketch Plan showing WalkUP Roslindale Proposal for Weld/Centre Intersection

Sketch Plan showing WalkUP Roslindale Proposal for Weld/Centre Intersection

We’re pleased to announce WalkUP Roslindale has submitted its first comment letter, providing some feedback on the proposed 100 Weld Street development. 100 Weld has been at least a bit controversial because of its scale (17 units replacing a defunct former gas station). While the proposed development is imperfect (concerns articulated in our letter, text reproduced below), we believe on balance the increased density and revitalization of vacant space benefits Roslindale–residents and business-owners alike–and housing is sorely needed in and around Boston. See below for our complete analysis.

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City’s middle-income base eroding – including in Roslindale

Per Boston Globe: Maria Sanchez-Lopez (right), with husband Lyle Lopez and daughter Felicia Torres, sought an affordable home for years.

Per Boston Globe: Maria Sanchez-Lopez (right), with husband Lyle Lopez and daughter Felicia Torres, sought an affordable home for years.

Today’s Globe features another in a series of articles on the housing crisis and related displacement, which includes Rozzie:

Among those affected is Orlando Espinal, who is facing eviction after his Roslindale apartment building was sold this year and the new owner ordered the renters out.

Espinal, 54, makes nearly $70,000 a year helping people with disabilities find work, but the only suitable places he can afford are far outside the city, which would mean yanking his teenage son out of Fenway High School.

The article doesn’t address the main cause of gentrification/displacement until the last paragraph: the interaction of supply and demand. We can’t stop the growth of demand (nor would we want to), so the only lever that works to ease displacement is to increase supply:

If workers can’t afford to live in Boston, it will make the city less attractive to employers, said Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development. The city is trying to alleviate what it has called the “unprecedented difficulties” middle-income families are facing in finding housing, including pushing for the building of more than 26,000 units of housing for lower- to middle-income families and new dormitories to get more students out of working-class neighborhoods.

Only a small fraction of these units will be built in Roslindale, but because we are a small, compact neighborhood, even a few dozen units will have a noticeable impact. Let’s make sure every new project is designed to contribute to a more walkable, vibrant neighborhood. We’re coming up with principles and guidelines to advance that vision. Stay tuned.

Gentrification in East Boston

HT Ricardo: Great WBUR piece on development and gentrification in Eastie (listen or read), illuminating both the micro- and macro-economic forces at work in modern-day Boston. Demand for housing is surging in neighborhoods with short downtown commutes–which includes both East Boston and Roslindale. Each neighborhood has unique draws: East Boston has its waterfront; Roslindale has, among other natural and permanent features, the Arnold Arboretum. The result across Boston inevitably includes painful displacement:

Stories of exodus are increasingly common in East Boston, but it’s happening across the city. A recent study from Northeastern University suggests Boston’s housing market is in crisis: Young millennials and aging baby boomers are relocating from the suburbs, occupying housing that traditionally went to blue-collar Bostonians.

The WBUR article also cites a recent study showing Boston now leads the country in gentrification!

Having a much lower percentage of rental housing, the rapid displacement we’re witnessing in East Boston may be less dramatic in Rozzie, but development is coming here too (stay tuned for even more announcements soon), presenting both challenges and opportunities for the community. More residents, wealth, and improved building stock can be a net benefit, but in addition to design goals (encouraging smart transit- and foot-oriented development that will not exacerbate traffic and parking woes), we must continue to push for maintaining and adding affordable housing. One reason we love Roslindale is because it, like Eastie, has become one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city; let’s insure we preserve that key advantage in the coming boom.