Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Housing Demand Left Unmet

By Erika Templeton

ALLSTON—With budget cuts that have left city departments over-stretched, and an economic recession that has left families scrambling to pay their bills,

the demand for affordable housing projects has been left unmet.

Department of Neighborhood Development spokesman Kerry O’Brien listed several new challenges to the city’s housing initiatives, including the rise of foreclosures, a softening housing market, and “the long-term risk of losing thousands of affordable rental units as owners are presented with the option of converting their properties to market rate.”

Added to the problem are housing costs in Allston and Brighton that have increased dramatically in the past decade. The median sales price in 2000 was $158,767. By 2005 it nearly doubled to $314,500, according to a data profile created by the Policy Development and Research Division of the Department of Neighborhood Development.

As prices rise, wages change far less. Since 1999, median income in the neighborhood has risen just 21 percent, to $46,000. Now, for nearly a third of all families in Allston, housing costs account for more than 35 percent of their income, the data profile said.

The growing gap between market and income rates has led to an increased need for affordable housing. At the same time, the city has implemented deep budget cuts, and new development projects are strapped for cash.

Non-profit organizations like the Allston Brighton Community Redevelopment Corporation are struggling to fill the demand for cheap housing. Recently, the corporation finished a 33-unit project on Glenville Avenue. The apartments will be available to those earning less than 60 percent of the median income, and tenants will be selected through a lottery. Already more than 700 residents have applied.

“There’s definitely a demand for affordable housing in the neighborhood that is not being met,” said Carrie Knudson, housing project manager at the corporation.

Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development has been working on a mixed-income housing project at 1501 Commonwealth Ave to address the needs of hundreds of families who won’t be chosen in other housing lotteries.

In July, the department approved the Brighton Partnership for Community Reinvestment’s proposal for the 32,000 square foot lot.

The decision has stirred debate among residents, many of whom believe the selection was based more on financial constraints than community needs.
Out of four plans proposed to the department, the Brighton Partnership’s uses the least amount of subsidy money and creates the fewest affordable units—19 out of 57.

“The developer that put in that development plan is trying to cover the cost of building,” Knudson said. “One way to get around the fact that subsidies are limited is to increase the number of market rate units in a building.”

Limited money has led to limited support for families who cannot afford the market rate for housing in Allston.

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