“Affordable housing” (including the newly minted “workforce housing”) is a misnomer – it should be called “subsidized housing.”

 

“Affordable housing” (including the newly minted “workforce housing”) is a misnomer – it should be called “subsidized housing.” Government uses taxpayers’ money to subsidize developers so they would build residential structures for the low and middle class Americans. The developers take the money but don’t deliver. As a result, the taxpayers get unhappy with rapidly rising taxes and the housing stays unaffordable by most Americans. Such is the nature of the national housing crisis.

Still, without a subsidy the housing crisis would be much worse. Developers build high-end housing which turns Plymouth (as well as many other municipalities) into bedroom towns for the wealthy and their service industry. And the town bureaucrats play along with the developers for the sake of greater revenues. At the same time they complain about the lack of industrial/commercial developments which don’t want to come to bedroom towns like Plymouth because the wealthy seniors won’t work for the industrial/commercial industry.

Most of Plymouth territory is covered with precious pine woods, but the state administration encourages developers to build in the woods, which requires cutting trees on a massive scale. For instance, the 1,200 homes planned by Makepeace will take 350 acres of land in South Plymouth that will lose about 227,500 trees. For that project Lt. Governor Karyn Polito presented $1 million to the jubilant administration of Plymouth just to build an access road with infrastructure. It certainly will be “the way to growth,” as they said, but this growth is neither “affordable” nor “smart” according to the state’s own guidelines.

The true housing affordability was supposed to come with prefabricated construction, but developers found a way to exploit that too. They use prefabricated trusses and studs as well as cheap labor from South America to reap big profits from “luxury homes,” passionately called “plywood palaces.” These profits are the best kept corporate secret, but a national survey quotes them between 20 percent and 40 percent of the cost of construction, while general contractors make up to 15 percent.

Both the “affordable” and the “workforce” housing are subsidized with the formulae based on the Area Medium Income of Boston, where the AMI is $107,905 while in Plymouth it is $80,095! Apparently, this difference is ignored by Plymouth administration that recently approved the project for 396 residential units by the A.D. Makepeace Company and applied for $3 million state grant on behalf of the developer. According to Makepeace President Mike Hogan 100 two-bedroom condos would be sold for $350K which is “an affordable price for those in the workforce.” But according to Plymouth Redevelopment Authority Director Peggy Whelan that price should be $276,000. So, which price is affordable by the working families of Plymouth? Your guess is as good as mine.

State Representative Matt Muratore, who is a Republican, promised to separate Boston from Plymouth median income but doubts that the state legislators will approve it. So why do the predominantly Democratic legislators of Massachusetts refuse to face economic reality of Massachusetts and help working families obtain affordable housing? If they preach affordable housing why don’t they practice it? According to the national survey, Massachusetts is #41 of the total 50 states for the housing affordability. Thus, in the current national housing crisis “our fair state” doesn’t fare well at all, does it?

The only way out of this vicious circle is called “social housing” most successfully practiced in Austria, Finland and Sweden, but also being recently promoted in the United States. On paper, this scheme looks simple: The federal government issues grants to states, the states transfer them to municipalities, municipalities purchase land and invite builders who take about 15 percent profit instead of bargaining with developers who take 40 percent profit. In this scenario the towns tell the builders what to build, instead of the developers who tell the towns! So, the taxpayers’ money would go to the builders who actually build buildings instead of the developers who profit from the labor of builders.

Can elimination of this middleman solve the housing crisis?

Anatol Zukerman, architect, Plymouth