Newburyport: Welcome to the ‘Projects’

Nice tenement buildingBack when I first moved to Newburyport in 1987, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was busily trying to get low-income housing into communities all over the state.      They met with a lot of resistance because no matter the high-minded intentions; the end result were high-crime areas with community-dependent residents; who often had, because it was rental property, a low-regard for the care of their units.       It usually wasn’t long before the general condition of the facilities were in such derelict state that surrounding areas had a lowering pressure on assessed property values, whether for taxes or for equity.

Okay, what I just shoveled to you above was the PC high-minded crap that makes sensitive people feel good.     Let’s put it in simple terms (true, but offensive).     Low to moderate income rental housing attracts illegal immigrants, welfare recipients, the poor, the disabled, the drug addict and, let’s just put it out there, the criminal.      Sorry, that’s just the way it is.            At one time, Newburyport had extensive low to moderate-income rental housing.  Tenement Buildng    It was called Woodman Way.  (even earlier it was parts of downtown!)    There were high levels of domestic violence, theft, drug busts, professional criminals, prostitution and even home invasions.        Woodman Way is now a rather tolerable place because they have been converted into condo’s – they are not great units but if I encounter a neighbor there, I have no problem calling out to them and saying, “Hey, neighbor!” and yes, I will feel good and even live to tell you about it.

THE 40R Smart Growth District that is about to be put in is designed according to Mass General Law to accommodate “low and moderate-income housing” and is, yes, it is, primarily rental units.

“You evil blogger,” you cry out, “Haven’t you read that the average unit will be from $1,200 to $1,500!     No sensible low and moderate-income resident is going to be able to afford this kind of housing!”     You are just scaring us with these accusations!”

How do you think Minco is able to finance this massive project? (They have done other  projects in other Massachusetts communities and they know what the finance companies require.)       They are basically offering the same rental rates that someone who wants a lovely-view of the river, and or be close to the historic downtown would pay.     The trade-off is theoretically the resident can jump on a train rather than ride or walk to the train.     They are telling the finance company that they can offer a high occupancy rate.       According to 40R; they can fill those units.      They are claiming that the 25% affordable units will never be subsidized.      But what of the 75% remaining of rental units?

My family has lived in rental developments for most of my life.    Responsibly, we took care of our place; but most around us had no such obligation and expected serious fixes to be done by the landlord; who more often did the minimal effort.

The fact is that Newburyport is a great place because we have mortgagers and renters rubbing shoulders with each other scattered across the entire community with a healthy socio-economic diversity.

But when you put renters en mass, you have a totally different mindset.

The residents do not own the units; and just like in communist countries, there is no prevailing desire to take care of the facility.       Even with severe security deposits; eventually, the entire complex begins to wear down.

Amesbury had some bad facilities (In one example, an entire complex was condemned) and they eventually resolved it by converting them from rental to condo-owned.     Remember, Woodman Way was resolved by converting to condo’s – but in a Smart Growth District? – Fogettaboutit!

Since Minco is going to use this principle throughout the 40R for a maximum 500 units (950 bedrooms) around the traffic circle; my advice for the rest of Newburyport AFTER A FEW YEARS!


-P. Preservationist

PS. Which is why Minco has spent a lot of money in political lobbying, slick brochures, newspaper propaganda pieces and also why those who advocate the 40R have a general sense of ‘nervousness’.      Everyone is hoping the negative aspects and news leaking from other communities (Haverhill & Lawrence & North Andover) that were sold the same bill of goods; are not even thought, let alone brought up.     But I knew something was up.       As Shakespeare says, “Thou protest too much!”    Also, remember that once Minco builds; they leave.    Period.     It’s in their business plan. (I certainly wouldn’t want to stick around, would you?)

PPS.  So why is the Mayor all for this?   One, obviously; the city gets money for doing this, Two: the State is obligated to stop messing with our Chapter 70 and give us a higher level of school funding from the state.   Three: the city has a high level of control over the design of these units and a freedom to insist on mixed-use zoning, and much input into the overall look and feel of the 40R.    Four, it does fulfill the Strategic Land Use Plan which encouraged a unified design and increased development around the traffic circle and train in place of no development in the Upper Common Pasture.    Five, a 40R is actually a 40B that is controlled by the community – by putting in this facility, even if we don’t achieve the 10% required to avoid 40B’s, Newburyport becomes safe from these community-destroying monsters.       Six, we get money coming in to take care of the increase in students – not enough if we need to build a new school, but it will help.      Wrap it all up, we end up lowering the property values and quality of life for this sector around the traffic circle/train station so the rest of the city can ‘pahteee’.      But the rest of the city will suffer as we expend three to four times the cost of these developments to compensate for them – the lift station is just the first of many expensive burdens coming for the taxpayer.

PPPS. By the way, I am not a snob!     We have many who won’t respect a fellow Newburyporter because he rents and does not own.       This mistreatment is based on the idea that he does not have a stake in the city because he does not own property, and thus does not pay taxes.      Most certainly does the renter pay taxes  (vicariously through his monthly payment to the landlord) and has just as much interest in making sure the city is a great place to live just like the rest of the building owners!

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5 Responses to Newburyport: Welcome to the ‘Projects’

  1. Mary Baker Eaton says:

    Hi Jerry, We’ve talked about this 🙂 I don’t know if you have seen this, but it is data showing what we already know, Newburyport has gotten wealthier. Especially interesting is the “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010” on page 20.

  2. Mary Baker Eaton says:

    Hi Jerry, I finally found it, “40R – Cities and towns may establish special zoning overlay districts that allow densities of 8 units/acre for single family homes, 12 units/acre for townhouses, and 20 units/acre for condominiums and apartments.” The Mass document saying 40R is for both rental and condominiums can be found here: So 40R is not just for rentals.

  3. T.J. Loring says:

    Yes, Nbpt has become a wealthier community.
    That’s what has driven the reserection (if you will) of a very rundown City.
    An upward spiral if you will.
    There is an unspoken ideology / agenda behind 40R.
    Deep in the background readings social engineers, many on the taxpayer payroll, have visions of protecting nature from “spraulers” and the ecology from cars.
    If you have a yard and 2 or more cars, you’re and offender.
    The devil is in the details:
    Note that proponents opine on the transportation “options” afforded the new settlers to 40R.
    Now they have the Train Option to go back and forth to work in Boston.
    Also note: Parking scheme allows for less than one car per unit.
    It’s reasonable that many of the new occupants will be 2+ per unit.
    2+ People per unit with 1 car = less, not more options.
    Try taking the train to Market Basket or, if what you want is at Stop & Shop in Amesbury, just take the train over there. The current response is:
    At buildout, this will be a Village that will provide all the goods and services required for residencs. This is otherwise known as CONTAINMENT.
    By restricting your living space and even your movements the populace become, over time, more manageable. Resources are “protected” and the ecology preserved from sprawlers.
    With regard to the more surface issues:
    The Little River Project in Newbury failed because plans called for access to Newburyport’s water and sewer services.
    Independent Engineering Report cited Newburyport Sewer and Water INADEQUATE to meet requirements of a 500 – 600 unit housing project. (Current 40R proposal is for 540 units).
    City self certified to State Authorities that it water and sewer systems were “more than adequate”
    Citizens in the South End report that the Neighborhood has been living with the STINK of SEWAGE for more than 20 years. Where was the City? They spent more than $30 million in upgrades several years ago. It still STINKS of INADEQUATELY treated SEWAGE.
    Todays Daily News (8/13/15) quotes City as indicating that upgrade was not for the STINK ISSUE but rather to address EPA issues. Don’t you feel better now.
    Add to that the ongoing debacle of the poorly designed and executed sewage transport on Plum Island and it completes a picture of a City without the competence to manage the current baseline quality of life requirements for a poor city let alone and affluent one like Newburyport.

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