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Some Really Dim Thinking on Affordable Housing

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 19, 2014 10:07 AM

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This blog is lucky to have faithful following on the comment boards - I am often impressed with the insightful commentary on the state of the housing market and the larger economy.

But occasionally I find myself shaking my head, especially when the subject is affordable housing.

Developers face a gauntlet of local approvals when trying to build new housing in the Boston area. But sadly, the bar is raised even higher when a market-rate complex includes a few subsidized units. Typically, these are apartments rented out at somewhat lower rates in order to be affordable to a teacher, a paramedic, a social worker, you name it.

Yet too often opponents equate workforce housing - with rents that can easily top $1,000 a month - with government-owned-and-paid-for units found in a public housing project.

It's hard to know whether the "critics" really believe such hogwash. But given the prevalence of such beliefs, it is really no mystery then why it is so hard to build anything but McMansions in many towns and suburbs across Greater Boston.

Of course, it's vicious cycle. As new housing gets bogged down in endless debates, rents and prices just keep on rising as demand outstrips supply. And, of course, that spurs demand for yet more subsidized units as more and more renters and buyers get priced out.

Here's a rather enlightening exchange of comments on my blog post about a 334- unit apartment complex proposed for a Route 128 office park. It includes 81 apartments reserved for low and moderate income families, starting at about $1,000 a month, with the market-rate units going for anywhere from $1,800 to $4,200 a month.

Wow, sounds just like another Cabrini-Green - the notorious Chicago housing project demolished back 2010.

Kudos to Icpshootzy for trying to set things straight.

Here's Jima, who provides us with a convenient example of this fairly common effort to demonize affordable housing.

It is well known that subsidized units are usually occupied by some sort of welfare recipients.

Now here's icpshootzy's reply:

Is it well known? Yes, there's section 8 housing out there. That's not what this is. My building has "affordable" units. Know who lives in them? Grad students and medical residents. Usually these units have income requirements that can't be exceeded. That in no way implies the people in them are "layabouts." My old apartment complex had plenty of subsidized units - they were full of retired senior citizens. Also "layabouts" I guess?

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

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