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City wants to sell vacant lots in Dudley Square for housing, new commercial space

Two of the proposed lots in Dudley Square

Two of the lots, on Washington Street.

The Boston Department of Neighborhood Development and the BPDA are readying bid requests for several vacant lots and one parking lot in Dudley Square in the hopes of seeing more housing and commercial space built in the neighborhood.

Draft RFPs for the lots say winning bidders will have to agree to several criteria, including providing far more affordable housing than normally required by the city for normal, in exchange for winning permission to build up to 12 stories - and maybe even higher if they can prove the new buildings would mean "a gateway to the community while providing a desired mix of uses and greater affordable housing opportunities to the area."

The lots in question are two adjoining lots on Washington Street between Ruggles and Williams streets, a lot on Warren Street at Zeigler Street and one on Dudley Street at Kenilworth Street.

For all of the lots, the city wants to see retail or commercial space on the first floor, topped by several floors or residential - and possibly some office - space. Developers would have to commit to making at least two-thirds of their units affordable - with at least a third set aside for people making no more than 50% of the area median income. Normally, the city requires developers to put aside only 13% of their units for potential tenants making up to 80% of the area median income.

Each of the proposals has specific targets based on the parcels' locations. For example, whoever wins 40-50 Warren St. would have to include a public parking component to replace the parking spaces that would be lost when the lot is built on. Also:

Development on 40-50 Warren Street must contribute to creating a new, high quality public realm in the center of Dudley Square that is engaging, community focused, and supports continuous pedestrian activity along the Warren Street corridor. The site’s central location in Dudley Square must be utilized to contribute to a lively urban realm surrounding the bus station.

Proposals that combine immediate adjoining parcels to increase economic feasibility, public benefits and improve vehicular and pedestrian access are encouraged. ...

Development teams submitting proposals should consider including uses that will generate new employment prospects in such areas of interest as education, health, finance and the sciences. Similarly respondents should have proven experience in and capacity for attracting such uses.

For the Washington Street parcels, the city is not looking for public parking, but:

Given the site’s central location in Dudley Square, the proposed design should contribute to the neighborhood’s identity and architectural history while presenting a mix of uses that respond to the rich cultural heritage of the square. A key consideration for any new development will be to not diminish the visibility and accessibility of Haley House from the street, impede access to Haley House or in any way devalue the prominence of the location of Haley House. Developers should ultimately discuss or demonstrate how their development supports the ongoing operation of Haley House while conforming to the uses and design guidelines defined below.

The base of the building must be a combination of retail, cultural and/or entertainment uses that contribute to the identity of the Dudley Square Cultural District. Office uses are possible at the ground floor as long as they create an active and engaging streetscape for the neighborhood.

And on Dudley Street:

The base of the building must be a combination of retail, cultural and/or entertainment uses that contribute to the identity of the Dudley Square Cultural District. This is particularly important given the site’s prominent location on Dudley Square Plaza. Office uses are possible at the ground floor as long as they create an active and engaging streetscape for the neighborhood.

DND hopes to send out the RFPs by the end of March.

2147 Washington St. draft RFP (2.5M PDF).
75-81 Dudley St. draft RFP (2.2M PDF).
45-50 Warren St. draft RFP (2.5M PDF).

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Comments

What's wrong with building 100% market-rate housing? The bids received by the city will reflect the difference. The wealth gets spread around to all taxpayers instead of getting funneled to a lucky few who win the housing lottery.

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Why should it give it away to developers who would basically gentrify the neighborhood when there's a need for people being priced out of the city?

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Why can't Dudley be gentrified for black people without having an invasion of white yuppies? Black yuppies exist, too. Then maybe Dudley will have more commercial places other than just liquor stores, barbershops, nail salons, and check cashing places. Let's give the storefronts a facelift.

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Why can't Dudley be gentrified for black people without having an invasion of white yuppies? Black yuppies exist, too. Then maybe Dudley will have more commercial places other than just liquor stores, barbershops, nail salons, and check cashing places. Let's give the storefronts a facelift.

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Other cities (ie Atlanta, Philly, DC) see new mixed use development that is anticipated to serve a Black community and potential residents and customers of color. This includes the same kind of transit oriented, condo/rent/commercial projects that the BPDA rubberstamps every week. And they get marketed to a middle and professional class of color, with amenities that reflect that market.

Boston has a middle and professional class of color. Yet in Boston, every single new development seems to be designed for - and implicitly marketed to - white yuppies. It's just become a given in Boston - by the City, by the developers, by the buyers, and by the neighborhood - that any new market rate development is being built for the benefit and enticement of white people - no matter where it's located.

It'll be interesting to see how the big Tremont Crossing project plays out down Malcolm X. The developers seem to want an explicitly Afro-centric project geared towards these communities of color. But that is in almost diametric opposite to the way that Boston works.

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The property's not being given away. It's being sold.

If multiple developers are bidding on the vacant parcels, and they know they can build 100% market rate units instead of 80% market rate units, then all their bids will be higher. It's more money for the city, not the developers.

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But I suspect they will be sold for a much lower price than if these were privately owned parcels - in exchange for far higher numbers of affordable units.

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For a period of Y years, those housing units may only be sold to or rented to someone who was a Boston resident at the time the land was sold or the housing was approved.

At any point in time, the Boston government is supposed to be serving the current residents, not serving people who don't live here at that time.

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Not when people are already being pushed out by high costs and bad schools.

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He said "auction it off with fewer restrictions," which is prima facie not "giving it away." His point was that auctioning with extra mandates attached is a transfer from the whole city to those who benefit from the mandate- in this case, the tiny fraction who win the housing lottery.

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I'm fine with that, because Boston doesn't really have a problem with market-rate housing (and, yes, I realize "market rate" in Dudley is a lot lower than, in, say, downtown), but it does have a problem with housing for people who can't afford market rate and are being priced out of even places like Dudley Square - look at how close it is to the South End and, for that matter, recall how the South End once had demographics very similar to those in Dudley.

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Restrictive zoning makes it very difficult to build. Don't need a free-for-all, but increasing density, especially outside of downtown where you might be able to drive down land costs in more moderately priced neighborhoods for developers would be a significant start. Between all the single family homes and one story retail rows, we shoot ourselves in the foot because zoning makes it almost impossible to build in many parts of the city.

Add to this the cost of requiring "affordable" housing itself and you are limiting supply even further. We exacerbate this even more, especially on the lower end of the price spectrum, with other subsidies that don't work like the residential exemption.

Fix these problems and you'll see real estate prices for "affordable" housing drop like a stone. Unfortunately, the voting blocs of homeowners affected by this would never allow it, so we continue the window dressing of these policies to make housing cheaper, when in fact - it accomplishes the opposite making it ever harder to turn back the clock and fix the problem - except perhaps for the few percent of Boston residents (often disproportionately City Hall employees) that can take advantage of it.

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Boston doesn't really have a problem with market-rate housing

The insane bidding wars that happen every time a house in JP goes on the market would suggest that you are completely wrong about this.

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See a lot of hipsters running around that pay "market rate" there? Any Tatte Cafes there? Yet???

Let's cut the shit here, this is just another sneaky way for the developers that own the City government to start pushing POC out of Roxbury. And to go where exactly? Brockton? Where do you live, anon?

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Developers don't push people out. They especially don't push people out when they're developing currently vacant land. How you can say with a straight face that more units on vacant land will somehow cause anyone to leave is beyond me.

What does push people out is increasing prices. And even though I know you want to believe that additional units somehow make prices go up, it's not true. Greater Boston has a housing shortage. That shortage is what causes prices to rise. And last I checked, Dudley is part of greater Boston.

The only two ways we can make prices come down are to either build more housing or to convince people not to move to greater Boston anymore. The problem with the latter is that if we make Boston less desirable for new people, we also make it less desirable for existing residents. We had that from the 50s to the 80s, when we lost huge amounts of population, saw pretty much no new housing starts, and had high crime, arson, and all the other good stuff that comes with population decline. That really leaves building more housing as our only tool to keep prices in check now that we're back into a population growth period.

If you really care about keeping people of color in Roxbury, then you should support all new housing, everywhere in the region (including Dudley), as a way to keep prices in check. And you should support anything we can do to address the income and wealth gap that is the real root problem. If we can figure out how to get young black kids into a track that will end up with them having jobs in tech, finance, health care, or higher education, we can get to some sort of income and wealth parity and stop having this discussion. Hopefully in a generation we'll see black developers building in white neighborhoods.

And fwiw, I do live nearby and I transit through Dudley almost daily. I look forward to the day when Dudley is a place I go to, not through, since it's the closest business district to my house.

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"Developers don't push people out"

So blockbusting was just the invisible hand pushing white owners out of their homes?

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I would argue that directly no one was forced to sell their properties by developers for blockbusting. Of course, in the same vein by and large developers don't push homeowners out through gentrification, either. Renters are a different story altogether, which is an issue facing neighborhoods of Boston.

The book Urban Exodus makes an interesting case that what happened in the Jewish parts of Dorchester and Mattapan in the 1950s was more of a pull away from the area more than a push. Might some players have been a bit ruthless in "convincing" people to sell? Sure, but in the end developers didn't force anyone to move.

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Blockbusting was a tactic that was enabled by the discriminatory lending laws of the time and would be very difficult to do today. It also requires that your average white homeowner be genuinely fearful of waking up one day and finding that all of the houses on their street were owned by black people. This is, of course, already the case in Dudley Square. The process doesn't work in reverse.

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Awesome! Got a black friend too? And my level of caring about the people of Dudley is based on 56 years of watching them be shit on by every administration in the city, not for lack of wanting new apartments.

Maybe you can tell me how an area where the median net worth is eight bucks how they can afford to pay market rate to satisfy the developers that may choose to invest there?

And then tell me who they really have in mind for those proposed new apartments?

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... About people who spend time there, I answered..

More to the point, what is it that you want the city to do with vacant lots? Should they just sit on them forever? We have a housing shortage. People are clamoring for more housing of all kinds, including subsidized housing. The city is trying to address that specific demand. If you have such a mistrust of city government, get involved.

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Maybe you missed the fascinating conversation I had with three people who actually grew up there last weekend, Tito Jackson, Monica Cannon Grant and Donald Osgood? On the show where we address these issues? Saturday nights at 6 on WEMFradio.com?

Why not reach out to them and ask them their opinion on housing in their own neighborhoods? You know, people who don't just walk quickly through Dudley and don't bemoan the lack of artisan anything?

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It's a great spot but it has outgrown its space. The smart developer will partner with Haley House to build them a larger new ground floor, street front space on one of these lots with a sweetheart long term lease or condo ownership deal. Then when that is done, they can switch over to the new space and repurpose the existing Haley House space as a second phase of the development. Same thing that tropical foods did.

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