Back 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. 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!
AVOID THE AREA!
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!