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Transit speculations

Posted by Rona Fischman  August 4, 2011 01:55 PM

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Surprise, surprise! The MBTA extension of the Green line in Somerville and Medford has been delayed, again. This time, they are projecting 2018 as a finish date, with the Medford stop possibly being delayed until 2020.

I am on record here at BREN for being skeptical about the on-time arrival of the Green Line. I wrote about it in 2007, and 2008 that I do not think that buying in anticipation of the Green Line is a good idea.

In 2009, I drew on lessons learned during the Red Line extension in the 1980s for an understanding of just how long it takes to see profit from that kind of community change. Here’s what I said then. I still stand by it, except now I am pushing my projections back four years.

C., a client of mine, asked me this question:

… I was also wondering if you had any opinions on the proposed Green Line extension. Personally I think I'll be dead by the time it's done, but was wondering if you'd heard anything to the contrary. I do know about that lawsuit that said it was supposed to be completed by the end of 2014. But I'm not holding my breath.

I answered:

I think you will live to see the Green line, God willing. Based on normal actuarial tables, you have another 50 or so years to go. That said, I think the Green line will get established in Somerville and will truly make an economic difference beginning 2020 or later. By that time, you will not be so very old. Buying based on the Green Line is premature at this time. The Red Line opened in Davis and Porter Square in 1984, but the housing boom there did not take hold until the mid-1990s because of a general economic slump. Same thing could happen with the Green Line extension, whenever it really arrives.

It turns out that she was testing me. She had the historical prospective from her parent’s experience in Davis Square. She wrote:

Back in the late 70s, my parents bought a house on Francesca Ave. for about $25K in cash, from a cult (no joke). They'd bought it in anticipation of the extension to Davis, but by 1983 they'd had enough and decamped for the suburbs. I'm happy to live in a less yuppified neighborhood, but considering they left Davis when I was 3 and it didn't really develop ‘til I was almost out of high school, I'm not eager to repeat their experience with gambling on the MBTA. Of course, God only knows how much that house (a single family Victorian) is worth now.

Let C.’s parents be a lesson to you. It will be a long time before the green starts rolling in based on the Green Line rolling through Somerville. It is a long-term bet at best.

Live long and prosper.

Are you seeing green because of the Green line? Am I right to be so cautious?

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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