A few weeks ago, the Zoning Board of Appeals narrowly rejected our proposal to convert a vacant lot at 1005 Broadway into 42 new homes, a coffee shop (or similar business), greenspace, an open walking path along Mill Creek, and 42 parking spaces. We were motivated to propose this project because Chelsea residents are being priced out of their own city and there is an overwhelming need for all kinds of affordable housing options. We have chosen to appeal the Zoning Board of Appeals decision because we still believe that this site offers a unique opportunity to meet critical community needs.
In putting our proposal together we relied on Chelsea’s 2017 Comprehensive Housing Analysis and Strategic Plan and the City’s Waterfront Community Vision Plan. We asked for input from the surrounding community and changed our proposal to incorporate it. We are grateful to those who came out to the community meetings and made the proposal better and more responsive to neighborhood needs. Our project was also designed with state waterfront regulations (Chapter 91) and the City’s ordinances and zoning regulations in mind.
Our proposal had the support from many community members, the City Manager, and a majority, i.e., three out of five of the members, of the Zoning Board of Appeals. To be approved, our proposal, however, needed four out of five votes. Thank you to those of you who took the time to speak in support and share stories about the impact of rising housing costs in Chelsea.
It is clear from the comments of those who spoke for and against the project that members of our community would like to see more opportunities for residents of Chelsea to own their own homes. We agree. Opponents of the project argued that rejecting our proposal would encourage the development of homeownership opportunities and discourage more development of apartments for rent. However, the rejection of our proposal will not create any homeownership opportunities, let alone affordable ones. The limitations and costs of complying with Chapter 91 make for-sale condominiums not feasible at this site.
To achieve increased homeownership in Chelsea, it is helpful to understand the facts. Over 30% of Chelsea residents are home owners, according to the City’s 2017 Comprehensive Housing Analysis and Strategic Plan. Opponents to our project claim that all of the new construction over the past ten years has been of rental apartments, further skewing the homeownership rate. However, the reality is that Chelsea has also seen a significant growth of condominiums over the past fifteen years, with total condominium units increasing by over 700 units, including the conversion of existing rental apartments to homeownership condos, as is reflected in the 2017 Comprehensive Housing Analysis and Strategic Plan.
And while these condominium conversions (from rental to ownership) created new homeownership opportunities for some, they have decreased the number of apartments available to rent, contributing to higher rental prices for current Chelsea residents. The Housing Analysis and Strategic plan notes that monthly rents increased 38 percent between 2011 and 2016. According to Apartments.com the average one-bedroom rent in Chelsea is $2,114 per month and a family sized 3 bedroom is over $2,800 per month; a 6.6% increase over this time last year.
To help address homeowner displacement in Chelsea and regionally, since 2008, The Neighborhood Developers has created 36 affordable ownership opportunities in Chelsea on Marlborough, Cottage, Maverick, Suffolk, and Broadway, as well as the Box District. Traggorth Companies successfully completed 43 affordable homeownership opportunities in Mission Hill using City of Boston funding. We
would like to build more homeownership in Chelsea, but unlike for affordable rental apartments, there have always been fewer state or federal resources dedicated to affordable homeownership, and that which does get built requires heavy reliance on scarce municipal sources of funding.
However, even if we are able to find sufficient funding, it is important to know that affordable homeownership opportunities are typically for families who earn at least $86,000 per year, or less than 20% of the current Chelsea population. The apartments we proposed are intended to serve families who earn about $60,000 per year or less. Sixty percent of Chelsea’s households have an annual income in this range, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In other words, this project was designed to serve current Chelsea residents who are clearly in critical need of affordable housing. It is for this reason that while we work with City officials to envision how more homeownership can be built and advocate for more resources to do so, we will continue to advocate for this project.
Rafael Mares is the Executive Director of The Neighborhood Developers, Inc. and Dave Traggorth, Principal of Traggorth Companies.