Editorial: A change of tone on housing

As the Gazette makes its twice-a-year return to Roslindale this week, we recall that neighborhood’s recent demographic history as a place where many JP artists and families relocated to escape skyrocketing housing prices and still have a great quality of life.

The City’s new housing report, however, shows the displacement of lower-income, and increasingly middle-income, households is speeding up in Rozzie as it is everywhere else in Boston.

It will be nothing short of a miracle if the City can do anything meaningful at this point. Like all municipal housing reports, this one is a grab-bag of plans, aspirations and guesses. Mayor Walsh’s commitment to redevelop City land into affordable housing is an outstanding effort. But it is sobering to remember that “affordable” rates typically are indexed to the area median income, a figure that crawls ever-higher with every wildly overpriced condo that hits the market. And residential property taxes are likely to remain artificially high in a city with more than half its land owned by nonprofits or government.

Nonetheless, the tone from the Mayor’s Office really does matter in development circles. The Department of Neighborhood Development has long been an affordable housing stalwart. But for years, the City’s key economic development officials praised any construction as good construction, oversimplifying the meaning of “supply and demand,” and embraced crackpot real estate advertising pitches, such as $2,000 microapartments, as urban-planning gospel.

Walsh, a union guy, is hardly anti-development. But his blue-collar ethos has led him to place Boston’s housing problem front and center where it belongs. And it’s working. Even when mega-developers spin their absurd SimCity fantasy of a Boston Olympics, they feel obliged to make its supposed affordable housing a big selling point.

Whether JP and Rozzie’s unique neighborhood atmospheres—both born of ethnic and class diversity—survive the real-estate cash-ins, no one can say. But at least we have some City leadership starting the discussion and emphasizing neighborhood affordable housing as much as glittery downtown towers.

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