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New Codman Square units put small dent in Boston’s affordable housing crisis

Rents stabilizing in older housing stock

Yawu Miller | 5/10/2017, 10:31 a.m.
Mayor Martin Walsh joined neighborhood activists to cut the ribbon on 44 new units of affordable housing in the Codman ...
Mayor Martin Walsh cuts the ribbon on the newly opened Whittier Lyndhurst Washington homes, a scattered site development of 44 affordable units built by the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. Banner photo

Mayor Martin Walsh joined neighborhood activists to cut the ribbon on 44 new units of affordable housing in the Codman Square area Monday. In a city where 21,865 residential units were permitted at the beginning of the year, the ones in Dorchester stood out.

“These homes are a testament to the neighborhood’s resilience,” Walsh said, recalling a visit to Southern Avenue 20 years ago when the area was in rough shape.

“There were some abandoned buildings,” he said. “We walked down New England Avenue. It was filthy.”

Codman Square NDC Executive Director Gail Lattimore, Mayor Martin Walsh, state Rep. Russell Holmes and City Councilor Andrea Campbell at the ribbon cutting.

Banner photo

Codman Square NDC Executive Director Gail Lattimore, Mayor Martin Walsh, state Rep. Russell Holmes and City Councilor Andrea Campbell at the ribbon cutting.

But, Walsh noted, the neighbors had a plan for redevelopment.

The Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation worked with the neighbors to bring that plan to fruition. The long-vacant Whittier School building was rehabbed into 15 units of housing. Next door, the NDC built 13 new units of housing along with a community center. Across Codman Square on Washington Street, the NDC rehabilitated a three-story bow front brick building into eight units and, near the corner of Washington and Park streets, another eight units along with 1,000 square feet of commercial space.

Progress

The 44 units are part of a broader push for the construction of middle income and affordable housing in Boston, more than 7,000 units of which have been built since Walsh released his housing plan in 2014.

Walsh acknowledged, however, that the city has much more work to do to help stem the tide of displacement.

“It’s a big issue, still,” Walsh said. “Obviously, people are concerned about being priced out of the city. There’s low-income housing here, but this will force the owner across the street to fix their house. People will say, it’s a beautiful neighborhood. The price will go up. That’s what happens when there’s investment made in the neighborhood.”

Codman Square NDC Executive Director Gail Lattimore said the new affordable units are part of a broader effort to maintain stability in a neighborhood that has garnered increased interest from well-heeled buyers.

“We’re seeing people being pushed out,” she said. “Not just low-income people, but people who make $40,000 to $50,000 a year. We’re concerned about home values rising too fast.”

With eyesores disappearing from the neighborhood, a new Fairmount Line Commuter Rail Station open on Talbot Avenue and the new housing filling long-vacant lots, Codman Square residents are beginning to face the displacement many see as the double-edge sword of neighborhood revitalization.

For now, city officials and CDCs are still pursuing housing production as a strategy for relieving pressure from the market. For renters, some relief may be in sight.

The 7,000 new subsidized units, along with a total of 12,001 new housing units built and 7,237 permitted, may be taking the edge off the city’s rental market. Average rents in housing units built prior to 2010 dropped 4 percent from $2,071 to $1,984 between 2015 and 2016. In neighborhoods, including Roxbury, the drop was more dramatic. Roxbury, for instance, saw average rents drop 9 percent from $1,757 to $1,598.

For now, city officials and CDCs like Codman Square are betting that production will help them beat back displacement. At the beginning of the year there were 21,865 units of housing in the planning stages that have not yet been permitted.

Continued investment

Walsh said he’s not hopeful that the federal government will continue funding affordable housing at the same level it has in past years, but also said he did not expect that the shortfall would affect affordable housing production, given the passage of the Community Preservation Act, a local property surtax, and the increased funding raised through higher Inclusionary Development Policy assessments. The city raised the total number of affordable units developers are required to build or fund from 13 percent to 18 percent.

“That’s actually helping us increase affordable housing,” Walsh said. “We’re actually raising more money and we’re going to continue to make investments inside the housing stock here in the city, inside our budget.”

The city will also continue to sell land to developers, including developers of affordable and moderate-income housing.

“We’ve put a lot of our land out to be developed in the last year,” Walsh said. “We still have more land, but I think we have to figure out how to get the costs under control.”