Everybody wins with luxury development in Boston
A recent Institute for Policy Studies report offers a decidedly negative view of both the city’s luxury residential market and the homebuyers who support it. The study’s argument that the luxury buildings are populated by faceless corporate entities and international buyers seeking to park their money ignores a larger and exceptionally positive outcome for the city. (Full disclosure: As the principal of a full-service residential and commercial real estate brokerage firm in the Boston market, I represent many real estate owners and developers.)
First, the burgeoning community of luxury condos in Boston is, in economic terms, a net positive for the city — providing significant tax dollars and job opportunities. Contrary to the study’s one-sided viewpoint, luxury development in Boston provides new residential opportunities for those who are looking to move into the city.
In addition, the report seems to view ownership by international buyers as an inherently nefarious undertaking, calling one tower a “classic wealth storage” property. The study’s authors seem to have a decidedly dim view of international real estate transactions — perhaps based on data from other markets such as New York City and Miami, which have experienced an influx of problematic transactions and slow city reaction.
Boston is on the world stage for many respectable reasons — education, medical, life science, technology, and finance. As such, the Boston real estate market has and always will attract local investors, as well as equity from throughout the United States and around the globe.
I’ve worked with many types of investors and home buyers throughout my more than 20 years of working in Boston real estate. My experience is that the majority of the international buyers in Boston are connected to Boston in a variety of positive ways. They buy a home here because their child is attending a Boston university, or they want to be near our world-class medical care, or they are relocating to here for a well-paying job in the tech, medical, life science, or financial services fields.
One of the study’s primary negative data points is that 64 percent of luxury condo owners in the sample do not claim their residential exemption, which the study calls “a clear indication that the condo owners are not using their units as their primary residence.” However, this point is superfluous. The requirements to obtain the exemption are time consuming and unwieldy for an annual exemption that amounts to only a few hundred dollars for most homeowners. As such, many people who purchase luxury units will not spend the time on something with such a small benefit.
Instead of depending on subsidies and rent control like other cities, Boston’s affordable housing policies create a virtuous cycle wherein the more projects that are approved, the more affordable units are delivered — thereby creating a robust workforce with the buying power to fill them. Moreover, every new residential development increases Boston’s property tax base – which helps the city become socioeconomically appealing to all – thereby attracting more and more residents.
While decrying projects like Millennium Tower in Downtown Crossing, the study ignores the fact that annual real estate taxes generated from Millennium Tower singlehandedly exceeds $12.6 million — equal to paying the annual salaries for 303 teachers or 168 police or 136 firefighters. Yet the number of police and fire calls to this building was four and the number of children using public schools is de minimis.
The building boom additionally yields positive for the many tradespeople who construct and service every new development. As a result, Boston has been experiencing significant wage growth in the construction industry at a time when labor’s earnings throughout much of the country is stagnant.
YIMBYs (Yes in my backyard) have the correct approach. They understand that there’s a place for workable development and a place for density. Growth helps the city work for everyone — whatever their income. Clearly, with development comes displacement and preservation issues.
In order to continue to serve all of Boston, developers have significant responsibility to understand not only what a neighborhood could become, but what it has been. Having said that, the notion that the influx of wealth exploits our city could not be further from the truth; indeed, it contributes to Boston in a way that benefits us all.
Jason S. Weissman is founder and principal of Boston Realty Advisors.