By Felicia Sanchez, Special to the Gazette
I’d like to share my perspectives on affordable housing both as a small-business person and a homeowner and hopefully put a few myths to rest.
The first myth is that affordable housing is somehow optional to a community’s health and well-being. I’m going to tell you that it’s essential. To me, it constitutes the first line of defense—a sort of social insurance that ensures the stability and continuity of a vibrant neighborhood.
As a restaurant owner in Jamaica Plain for over 23 years, I was witness to the chaos that was unleashed when rent control was abolished in Boston. As I watched two-thirds of my regular customer base get priced out of their apartments by overnight rent hikes of oftentimes more than 100 percent, it really got me thinking. If my regular customers who had the disposable income to dine in my restaurant five to seven times a week were getting priced out of their homes at such a rapid rate, what on Earth was happening to the people who didn’t have that kind of disposable income?
The turnover not only hurt my business from an income perspective, but a hiring perspective as well. What had previously been a very livable wage was no longer one. I had to cut back my own wages at a time when the restaurant was making less due to customer base erosion in order to pay employees more just so they could afford their skyrocketing housing costs. On the human side, I saw many of the young men and women who worked for me afflicted by a “housing panic” that was often debilitating. For those of you who may not have seen it or experienced it first-hand, I cannot begin to convey to you how destabilizing it is to your central existence to have to worry about the very roof over your head. Living under that sword of Damocles makes concentration at work extremely difficult, if not impossible, and the number of stress-related absences soared. Housing security for all is a fundamental right, not a luxury.
I was lucky during that time. The rent on my own apartment was reasonable and stayed that way. But if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t still live in Jamaica Plain, never mind run a business here in the neighborhood I love.
The second myth is that affordable housing is some kind of scourge that lowers property values.
As a homeowner who lives right next door to affordable housing, I can tell you that that is patently untrue. I had the good fortune to finally be able to buy my own condo in 2004. The next year, in the face of much neighborhood opposition (but not mine—I can assure you!), a tasteful and architecturally appropriate affordable home was built right next door to me. Since that time, I am happy to report that every time I’ve had it appraised, my condo appreciation has beat the market average by several points. Having quizzed several real estate folks on the matter, I can tell you that my situation is the rule rather than the exception.
In short, affordable housing is neither a property-devaluating blight nor a warm and fuzzy luxury to be pursued by the socially conscious if and only if it’s convenient. In today’s economic climate it is more essential than ever.
It is for these reasons that I am supporting the Faces & Places of Affordable Housing campaign. I invite you to join me by pledging your support for affordable homes in our community. Please visit yestoaffordablehomes.org to pledge your support and for more information about the campaign.
Felicia is the owner of Centre Street Café in Jamaica Plain and a member of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation’s Board of Directors.