Boston’s new Chief of Economic Development, John Barros, spoke at a recent UEP Economics course lecture addressing students’ concerns about current events in the city. Discussion began with housing, and the lack of access to affordable housing in Boston. Boston is seeing around $8 billion in residential development, with the vast majority going toward luxury apartments. One interesting note is that many of the new luxury apartments function as second homes for foreign nationals. Barros stressed his desire to maximize access to affordable housing while still allowing for this growth. He is also thinking about creating linkages between areas already benefiting from development and those in which the city wants to incentivize future development.
Affordable housing is frequently defined and priced for those making 80% of the city’s median income, which in Boston is $92,000. At the community level, this doesn’t always make sense. In Roxbury, for example, the median income is $25,000, so “affordable housing” is actually unaffordable for most of the neighborhood. Large, multiunit residential developments are currently required to offer 15% of units as affordable, but Barros wants to increase that number to 25%.
Boston 2024 Summer Olympics
John Barros supports Boston in seeking to host the 2024 Olympic Games, and has been tasked with helping to build public support. Up to this point, several Boston area CEOs have been running most of the pro-olympics campaign, which Barros admits has not helped to gain grassroots support. One positive aspect of so much private leadership is the fact that the city wants to put a lot of the development burden on these private interests. In an effort to avoid using public funds, Barros claims the city would only fund investments in roads and transit. Sports venue infrastructure investment would have to come from the various universities and sports teams in the area. The city would then use this as an opportunity to raise further funds by placing linkage fees on new developments, essentially charging a tax on Olympics development investment.
He sees the Olympics, or even just the hype around it, as a way to build support for new infrastructure. All the international press about Boston increases its name recognition and could result in increased investment, even if the bid doesn’t go through successfully.
The idea will be put to a referendum in November, with both the city and the state having a say. The referendum will require both the city and the state to separately approve Boston as the host of the 2024 Olympics.