Sent to: Liz Breadon, Juan Lopez, and Michelle Wu
April 5th, 2021
Dear City Representative and Residents of Allston Brighton:
In this letter and documentation, I would like to discuss some concerns that I and many other residents of Allston-Brighton have regarding the thought of creating a new proposed “Master Plan” for our neighborhood. Some of the information that has been presented by the individuals spearheading this project is erroneous and with all due respect I consider it short sighted. Additionally, I would like to high light some concerns that already have and will continue to affect all the residents of Allston-Brighton some of which are clear health and safety issues.
THE NOTICE OF HEARING
A notice dated January 27th, 2021 to the people of Boston calls for a hearing on Allston Brighton Master Plan and Zoning Initiative brought forth by Councilor Liz Breadon with the support of Arroyo, Bok, Edwards, Essaibi-George, Flaherty, Flynn,Mejia, O’Malley, Campbell, Wu and Janey. This notice has some important errors and gross misrepresentations. Please see Notice here:
1. In two places this Notice tells us that over 7000 apartments have been approved for construction. This number is factually wrong and is actually an astronomical 10,000+ of project 80 plans and an additional un-totaled 1000+ units from 300-500 houses (estimate) that have added 1-4+ apartment units to their property via the variance appeals process (this number is very hard to track, but I do have some information compiled to support it).
This is extremely concerning that these government officials are downplaying 11.000+ apartments that are already built or in the process of being build. Not to mention the wild guestimate of 5000-10,000 units that Harvard may put on their 100 acres of land they have to play with. Once said and done just this current 11,000+, this will increase the population of Allston-Brighton by an estimate of 35-45% or 27,500 to 39,000+ people (and growing). If Mayor Walsh wanted 52,000 new apartments, well Allston-Brighton has already contributed more than 20+% of that number!!! (see included spreadsheet)
2. “only 20% of these units are homeownership units” – is massively false and is actually less than 5 if not 3%. (see included spreadsheet). Also a major consideration should be that by building so much nearly exclusively rental units, the city has destroyed the incredibly small number of owner occupants from previously 15% in Brighton, down to less than 10% (I wager) and Allston from about 10% to less than 5% (I wager). In my neighborhood I am one of the only 1-2% of owner occupied homes the lowest in any area of Boston.
3. “roughly 3% of the units are 3-bedrooms” – I find this number questionable, since I personally know that this data is VERY VERY hard to compile because the construction projects often do NOT list the number of bedrooms, so in some cases you would have to look at the actual plans submitted at 1010 Mass Ave. and count each room. Please look at http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects and see how easy it is to determine the number of bedrooms per unit on a multitude of these projects. I try to include this information on my spreadsheet when readily available, but I found it next to impossible to extract in many cases.
Now for those of us who have been following this rampant growth remember that it started with the pleas of “need for individual housing and micro apartments as there was too much larger units taken up by college students living 3-5+ persons per apartment. Now this record has been flipped over and the demand for larger units to accommodate families is the plea. Shouldn’t this be a consideration planned out appropriately during the development process by urban planning department starting 2015 rather than dictated by developers’ market analysis desires?
4. “Increased development in Allston-Brighton has not been accompanied by sufficient investment in and improvement of transportation networks and public transit options” – this is the fault of the city councilor and urban planning, not the residents. The City gifted billions of dollars worth of housing development without requiring improvements to transit, not to mention police, fire, roads, electric, water, sewer, and many other safety issues. This should be extremely concerning to all residents because the effects of these short comings are starting to happen and will grow as more projects near completion, and we see a 35%-45% population increase.
5. “The City of Boston has never conducted a comprehensive, community-led master planning process for Allston-Brighton” – I feel this is false, Article 51 was a community led master planned that was developed over many years by the community and signed off by Mayor Manino, and has been updated throughout the years. SECTION 51-6 clearly states “Community Participation” and lists the groups that participated in the drafting. It
is a living document and an agreement to protect the residence from overdevelopment as clearly stated throughout. There are a number of people who were involved in the creation of these Articles for the various neighborhoods throughout the city including the Chair Person of the ZBA – Christine Araujo. Zoning Article 51:
One could say that the Boston 2030 was a Master Plan foisted on the residents without much consent. That plan was implemented within the last 7-8 years and put Boston into full unbridled construction overdrive lacking important consideration for urban planning.
6. “In the past two years, rents for housing units in Allston-Brighton have risen by an average of 32%” – I find this hard to believe when there was 2000+ available apartments in Allston-Brighton on September 1st, 2020 and about 600 on September 1st, 2019. Additionally, Realty.com list Suffolk county as having the 4th highest rent reduction in the WHOLE nation (Feb. 2021). Also, next door Middlesex County was #7.
As well as United Van Lines reporting Massachusetts being in the top ten for people moving out of state.
I wanted to briefly address and contradict some of these listed reasons calling for a Master Plan for Allston-Brighton, my purpose was not to go point by point and tear this hearing notice apart, but I did want to highlight these glaring and rather important errors before discussing some rather larger issues.
If the Mayor’s desire was to create 53,000 new housing units (or even some larger number), clearly Allston-Brighton has already provided way more than its share in that number with 11,000+ units, not including the massive tidal wave of housing that Harvard will be able to reign down upon us with the 100+ acres of available space.
We live in a state that only grows one-half percent (.5%) annually in terms of population growth, and that is prior to Covid-19. The mayor’s desire to grow to 53,000 units, is an approximate growth of let’s say 25% population over a 8-10 year time period. Even over 10 years, 2.5% is 5 times higher than the state average (DURING 10 CONSECTIVE YEARS). Maybe 2.5% growth could happen once or twice, but not 10 consecutive years.
As one of 25 recognized zoning areas, Allston-Brighton is already carrying 20+% of that 53,000 units, which makes our population numbers even higher than the City’s sum total of 25% population growth, which supports my conservative estimate of 35%-45% population growth rate.
Lastly, please consider surrounding towns (Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Malden, etc) are also massively building additional housing. I have no solid data on this, but these cities must also be creating large numbers of housing units. A reasonable person must ask themselves, “can all of metro Boston grow 2-5 times more than the state average annual growth rate of .5% for a multitude of year?”
Now I was drastically worried about these number prior Covid-19, and now that we are approaching the end of this pandemic, things have changed massively and could be much worse. Clearly people are moving out of what was once thought as “undiminishable major metropolitan cities” such as NYC, San Franscisco, Los Angeles, Portland Oregon and Seattle which have all been hit hard in population reduction. As stated earlier, United Van Lines has Massachusetts in the top ten states for exodus.
REASON FOR VARIANCES AND ARTICLE 51
Here are the reasons Boston zoning code will grant variances with ALL of the following conditions needing to be met:
1) special circumstance or conditions (such as odd shape land) which deny reasonable use 2) demonstrable and substantial hardship (such as financial)
3) granting of the variance will be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of this code, and will not be injurious to the neighborhood or otherwise detrimental to the public welfare
4) (If large project) – complied with the Development Impact Project Exaction 80B
I feel that there are no project 80 developments in Allston-Brighton that met these requirements to be granted the needed variances for construction and most other projects that were granted variances were also unmeritorious.
Article 51 which is specific to Allston-Brighton, was written to protect the residents and minimize the over development of the neighborhoods of Allston-Brighton. Not only does this intend to protect from drastic community changes, it also protects individuals’ home values, safety and well-being. This is an agreement between the city and its residents to protect its residents, not to provide select financial benefit to developers or growth for purposes of providing housing and/or an increase in tax revenue. It is also not meant to change from Mayor to Mayor, if that were the case, then comparatively a new mayor could protect Allston-Brighton but bull doze the Common and take a wrecking ball to all the Brownstones in the back bay with enough scheduled hearings and meetings to make people eventually give up fighting.
BETTER THAN HAVING CAKE & EATING IT TOO (VALUE OF VARIANCE)
By granting developers large variances, it is important to understand that the developers: 1) often make money while building the project, 2) they clearly make money owning the project and 3) the get to eat their cake every month by renting out their project, this is why I say its better than having cake and eating too. The city could have required these buildings to be condos which would have benefited the community more – I will discuss this further. Often you will hear that condos could not have been built for tax reasons or some other false hurdle, but there are always work arounds for everything.
I think it is important to highlight how much value the city has gifted developers in Allston-Brighton. One of the first projects that was started and subsequently sold was The Green District project which cost about $75 million to build and sold for roughly $150 million. The city gifted variances to this developer, against the guidelines of article 51, which allowed the developer to profit $75 million on that construction and sale. That project was only 263 apartments over 3 buildings.
So if we value each apartment at about $500,000+/- multiplied by 11,000+ we are at nearly $6 billion dollars of gross asset value that the city gifted developers of which very little value or even community contribution was given back to the residents of Allston Brighton. In fact, with 11,000 apartments built, the residents home values most likely will go down, especially considering 90% of housing is rental which largely dictates the value of the property in our area. So how did the residents of Allston-Brighton benefit from these developments?
Now it obviously sounds like I am against development, which is not true. I acknowledge that some housing did need to be built and there was much needed improvements. The Guest Street development zone, I think is excellent and should be a very worth while area for the whole community providing housing and attracting outsiders to visit that area for a multitude of reasons.
What I have been pushing for since 2017 when we first started to form a home owners union was “100% ownership” for new construction. At that point there was only 4000 or less apartments approved which were 95% rentals. Tony D’Isidoro from the Allston Community Association and Liz Breadon our now city councilor were in those meetings.
My view was (and is) if we are going to give away variances to developers, we should require 100% ownership which would help hold more permanent residents in Allston Brighton. With that 100% ownership you could make 13% (or more) affordable ownership whereby low-income people own a property, gain economic independence from the government AND own property as part of their retirement portfolio something that may not have been available to them previously. Additionally, by building condos the affect on the rental market and thus the decrease of home values would be much less.
As Harvard is growing, North Allston is building apartment rather than condos. So all those new employees who are over 35 years old, might be starting a family, making $60k-$150k will be required to live in a different area to own a home as part of the normal American “home ownership as long term investment/retirement” plan. So these employees at Harvard, lets say, only give their lunch money to the North Allston community because they cannot buy a house/condo in Allston-Brighton since none are being built. So they leave the city at the end of every day and weekends to go to another community to spend their money and buy a home making a more permanent resident contribution to another area. This to me is very sad, our city leaders allow developers to build rentals to make more money for themselves rather than building a better and permanent community in Allston-Brighton. Had my views on building 100% Ownership been enforced by the community and the community leaders, we would be looking at 7000+ new condos in Allston-Brighton with more permanent residents who inherently care greater about the neighborhood and offer low income people financial independence from government subsistence.
GUEST STREET PROMISE BROKEN
The Guest Street project was properly handled in 2012 by Mayor Manino’s administration in that it was zoned and approved by the community. In consideration for allowing buildings that were much larger than allowed for that zoned area, the city would limit development in the surrounding areas (see page 45 of the Guest Street proposal). This agreement was subsequently not kept and many of the new buildings built or being built nearby violate this Guest Street promise. So not only is Article 51 being violated by these buildings also the Guest Street agreement. Based on this, I cannot offer any confidence that a New Master Program would be handled in an honorable manner for the residence of Allston-Brighton.
CANNOT BUILD AFFORDABLE HOUSING AFFORDABLY
I think is important to understand that it is now getting harder and harder to build affordable housing. Costs have gone up massively in the last 6 months and there is little indication this will slow down anytime soon. Part of this is due to the fact that we are at the end of our current fiat currency cycle and inflation has sucked the valued away. We could have massive inflation, deflation or stag-flation. Additionally, it is not necessarily that rent has gone up massively, as that also incomes has not gone up in most employment sectors for 20 years. Apartments that are being built now in Allston need to rent for $1300-$1600 per bedroom and studios/single bedrooms are over $2500+ per month. Do we really believe that Allston-Brighton is going to be able to attract an additional 30,000 + under 35 year-old renters each September 1st who can afford that much?
BUILDINGS GOING BACK TO BANKS AND SAFETY ISSUES
I feel pretty confident that some of the buildings being currently built will go back to the banks or foreclosed on because their necessary high rental rates and because of the over construction much like in the late 1980s and 2008. On Youtube you can watch the senate hearings from early 1990s explaining the Savings and Loan crisis which is very similar to present day. In other parts of the country in 2008 there was massive over development.
Next, as I have suggested with 11,000 apartments being built in Allston-Brighton, the infrastructure and safety issues have been overlooked. This could be an issue that could come back to bite the people who are not addressing the issues properly. Many of us have been waving the red flag for a while.
So instead of a master plan for further development, it might make sense to plan for converting some buildings to ownership and backfill the neglected safety issues (police, fire, electric, water/sewer, roads, misc. infrastructure) that were not properly addressed over the last 7 years.
I have provided a great deal of information (and opinion) in this document to better inform my fellow residents and city officials; I did my best to be brief but still substantive.
I have shown that the information our City Councilor and fellow representatives portrayed in the Hearing Notice had a great deal of false and/or misleading information and I did so with supporting documentation. So, I have to question their efforts as being disingenuous with regards to properly representing the current residents of Allston Brighton.
As I have suggested, the city officials have stepped over the stated goals of Article 51 which is to protect this neighborhood, and they handed out massive number of variances without merit. Additionally, these same people did not uphold the Guest Street agreement which was a promise to the residents of Allston-Brighton that there would be construction minimization in specified areas. In consideration of the massive amount of over development and broken promises why would we, the residents of Allston-Brighton want to open the flood gates and allow these officials to create a New Master Plan thereby further changing our neighborhood, decrease the value of our homes, add further risk to our safety, greater decrease the number of owner occupants, and many other non beneficial considerations?
Just because they repeat the statement “we need more housing” over and over in a Bernaysian fashion, does not make it true. I have yet to see data that show some massive number of housing units needed in spite of people parroting this mantra over and over. Of course, there is never enough affordable housing, there never will be. I have to ask why do these people fight so hard to build in this neighborhood and is this really
“representative government”? It is my opinion that their efforts would be better served to now represent the people currently living in Allston-Brighton and prepare for the safety/infrastructure issues that will arise once the population has been increased close to 50%. To also fight for converting current construction to home ownership/affordable ownership. Clearly some of these new buildings could be converted to affordable owner occupancy not to mention that as condos they are lower cost, nearby, affordable starter housing for young families – a win win for everyone.
Finally, I fear that the people pushing for this master plan will read what I have written here and trivialize or microfocus on one small detail to convince themselves and others that my WHOLE presentation here is completely wrong or absurd. Additionally, these detractors will feign being offended by what I have written or will slur me as a just
another NIMBY (not in my back yard) type of person; as has been done to so many others. So call me a NIMBY or pick this document apart based on some micro details that you find offensive, that is fine. But I am merely asking the reader to really take a step back and look at the damage that has been done to Allston-Brighton (albeit not obvious just yet), consider the disregard for safety issues, consider that affordable rental housing cannot be built affordably right now due to economic reasons, consider instead of rentals we could have had condos with more permanent residents, consider the impending repercussions of post Covid-19, consider we already have excessive housing availability in Allston-Brighton with thousands still being built and yet this is still not enough for these representatives.
I am a 23 year resident of Allston, I proudly own two houses in my neighborhood, and I do not support and clearly find it unconscionable to ask for New Master Plan for Allston Brighton after the details I have presented here.