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Hare-brained radicals, not conservatives | In richest suburbs, home prices stay stratospheric | Startup fills void in Watertown news | Media critic puts Twitter to the test | Odd twist to Wu’s rent control plan | Quick hits | About Contrarian Boston |
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Rent control for the rich? Tens of thousands of apartments in wealthy or relatively well-off Boston neighborhoods would be covered under Wu’s city-wide plan to cap rents
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has pitched her plan to bring back rent control as a way of helping tenants of modest means stay in their apartments.
Whether capping rents would truly provide significant relief, or just shut down new housing construction in working and middle-class neighborhoods, is up for debate.
But beyond dispute is another inconvenient fact, first reported by The Boston Guardian, a feisty city newspaper: The neighborhoods that would see the biggest impact from rent control are some of the richest around, including Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Downtown Boston.
The vast majority of apartments on Beacon Hill - 92 percent - would be covered by Wu’s proposed 6-10 percent cap on rents, as would more than 91 percent of apartments in the North End and nearly 87 percent in the Back Bay.
That’s compared to 37 percent of the apartments in Roxbury, 42 percent in Chinatown, 45 percent in Mattapan and 46 percent in Dorchester, with these neighborhoods having a much higher percentage of public housing or subsidized rentals.
In an interview with Contrarian Boston, Chris Lehman, co-founder of real estate investment/development/management company Groma, called Wu’s rent control proposal “regressive.”
Some of Boston’s wealthiest neighborhoods would see the biggest impact from Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s rent control plan. Photo by Nana Nakazwe on Unsplash
“That proposal would benefit people who are already well above the average income for the city and the state,” said Lehman, a board member and chief information officer of the Small Property Owners Association, which is a major foe of rent control. “You are implementing a regressive policy for the benefit of some of the wealthiest residents.”
The numbers also stand out in absolute terms as well - roughly 50 percent more apartments would be covered on Beacon Hill than in Mattapan - 4,280 compared to 2,927. We asked City Life/Vida Urbana for comment, but did not hear back from the group, which is a major backer of rent control.
A city official, speaking on background, would only confirm the obvious, that Wu’s plan is meant for the entire city, and does not differentiate between neighborhoods.
We are sure renters on Beacon Hill or in the Back Bay could use a break or two like the rest of us, but do they really need rent control?
Twitter versus Mastodon: Dan Kennedy weighs in
There has been an exodus of media types and others from Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover of the social media network.
Kennedy, who writes the Media Nation blog, has wound down his activity on Twitter while ramping it up on Mastodon, one of a number of would-be competitors looking to capitalize on Musk’s mistakes.
Kennedy writes he has found a higher level of engagement from users on Mastodon, which provides a much more siloed approach than Twitter’s mass market model.
In particular, Kennedy’s finds he is getting with more likes and “boosts,” Mastodon’s version of a retweet, than when he posts the same content on Twitter.
Then again, he also acknowledges that Mastodon can’t or won’t track how many views a post gets, so its hard to say how many people are seeing it.
Memo to GOP: As its 100th anniversary approaches, FDR’s New Deal isn’t going anywhere
The debt ceiling negotiations have been bad enough. Just when you started to forget the last crisis, the chaos-driven, showboating nihilists of the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party pop up again, threatening to force the federal government to renege on its debt payments.
It’s the financial equivalent of dropping a hydrogen bomb on the American economy.
Now imagine giving the likes of Majorie Taylor Greene, with her musings about Jewish space lasers, the debauched Matt Gaetz, and George Santos, if he can stay out of prison, the power every five years to decide whether to “sunset” Social Security and Medicare.
That effectively was the proposal put forth by Sen. Rick Scott. After being shrewdly called out by President Biden, Scott now denies the two bedrock social welfare programs would have been included in his would-be Congressional referendum on federal spending.
Nice try, but the Florida Republican made no such distinctions when he put forth his brilliant plan, which called for a vote on all federal spending.
Nearly a century on, some Republicans are still trying to kill FDR’s New Deal. Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash
Here’s what Scott and other self-described conservatives in today’s Republican Party just don’t get: Trying to monkey around or even gut a nearly century old program like Social Security is the farthest thing from true conservatism, in its traditional meaning.
The same, for that matter, is true for efforts to mess around with Medicare and Medicaid, part of the 1960s sequel to FDR’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
True conservatives don’t try sabotage or sunset popular and long-established programs crucial to social stability and, frankly, the preservation of both democracy and capitalism.
Rather, it’s the kind of hare-brained, ideologically-blinkered radicalism that Republicans used to abhor, but now champion.
Bulletproof markets? Buyers waiting for prices to tank in high-end suburbs may be sorely disappointed
The real estate market in much of the state is bracing for tougher times. Yet towns and cities like Wellesley, Belmont, and Newton, where home prices are the highest, are likely to be well insulated from the turmoil.
A case in point is Wellesley, a market that Elaine Bannigan, founder and now former owner of Pinnacle Residential Properties, has been tracking for more than two decades and where, after a slowdown during the second half of 2022, there are already signs of a rebound.
Bannigan, who recently decided to affiliate with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, has issued her latest Pinnacle Report on the local housing market.
There was a dramatic drop off in activity in the Wellesley real estate market between the spring 2022 market and the final quarter of the year, Bannigan told me when I caught up with her for my weekly column for Banker & Tradesman.
The listing-to-sale-price ratio, which stood at a sky-high 109 percent in the spring, dropped back to 98 percent in the last three months of the year.
Overall, homes in Wellesley took three times longer to sell at the end of 2022 than they did last spring, Bannigan’s report notes.
However, that was then and this is now.
After surging over the fall, mortgage rates fell back a bit in January. And with the spring market right around the corner, buyers are out in force again in Wellesley.
In fact, one colonial, on the market for $1.5 million, recently fielded 17 different offers, according to Bannigan. (Given the median price of a home in Wellesley stood at $1.8 million at the end of last year, it is apparently a relative bargain.)
The biggest problem facing Bannigan’s brokers right now is the same one they have been struggling with for years – a dire shortage of home to show and sell.
“I am not sure how prices are going to shake down this year,” Bannigan said. “The demand is so high. If you are a seller, now is the time to sell.”
Startup Watertown News sees growth after Gannett gives up on local papers
The epic collapse of Gannett’s community weeklies threatens to create news deserts across the state, even in the growing city of Watertown.
Starting in the spring of last year, Gannett stopped printing more than 20 weekly papers in Massachusetts. And it turned their websites over to regional news. Cutbacks included such communities as Waltham, Newton and Brookline.
Gannett also shut down the Watertown Tab.
One online alternative that townies are now talking about is the web-only Watertown News. The shoestring operation has some of the traditional offerings of a community paper – such as the police log, along with coverage of the Watertown schools, the City Council and elections.
Local resident Charlie Breitrose, a news industry veteran, started up the website in 2014. He sees Gannett’s cutbacks as offering renewed opportunity for his business.
In fact, Watertown has grown in population in recent years and now has more than 35,000 residents. Multifamily buildings have sprung up as formerly commercial or industrial areas have been converted to housing. And the prices for residential property have skyrocketed.
Breitrose said that the number of subscribers to his newsletter has surged by about 300 in the last six months. His subscription list now tops 900.
A Feb. 9 newsletter has a link to a timely article on labor negotiations between the Watertown School Committee and the teachers union. The email also pitches an upcoming “Future of Watertown Square” event sponsored by the Watertown Business Coalition, which Breitrose helps lead.
In addition, Breitrose said, he attends numerous local events and meetings – and posts something new to the website every day. “As the editor and publisher, I not only write stories, but also take photos, run the website and sell ads.” That’s not to mention editing submissions such as letters and press releases.
In short, he’s both an entrepreneur and a one-man band.
And he’s seen shakeups in the news industry up close. Both he and his wife, Jennifer Kavanaugh, used to work for the MetroWest Daily News, based in Framingham.
In 2014, Breitrose took a job as an editor covering Watertown and Newton with the Patch online news chain. He was in charge of freelance writers and photographers and edited local copy and photos for those Patch websites.
As Facebook and Google came to dominate in the online ad business, the prospects for the Patch chain dwindled. Breitrose got laid off by the company in 2014.
Breitrose said he then created the Watertown News website using the WordPress content-management platform
Meanwhile, the Watertown Tab went into decline. At the dawn of the 21st century, the Watertown paper had an editor and full-time reporter.
The Tab also had the infrastructure offered by a chain of newspapers. That included staffing for such basics as advertising and circulation – along with such features as local real estate sales.
By the time COVID-9 came along, the Watertown Tab did not even have a staffer to cover the School Committee anymore. That’s during an unprecedented pandemic that roiled the education system.
When Gannett shuttered the Tab’s print run in May of last year, a lone staffer was covering both Belmont and Watertown. The longtime local editor, Joanna Tzouvelis, moved over to cover regional news for Gannett.
For his part, Breitrose got to publicize the Watertown Tab’s demise. And his website has several real estate advertisers along with a bank, a dental practice and a funeral home.
Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.
After the government cuts subsidies, German sales of EVs tank: “Germans Think Twice About Electric Vehicles” Wall Street Journal
Danger signs for Mass. Dems: “Mass. poll indicates popularity of Democratic leaders sagging” CommonWealth Magazine
Shooting gallery: “Another aerial object, this time over Lake Huron, shot down by military” Washington Post
Well, “over-celebrate” is one way to put it: “It’s a Philly thing: Why the city’s fans over-celebrate” Washington Post
Is it really such a mystery how to handle Trump? From what we recall, Biden soundly whipped him in 2020: “DeSantis’s Challenge: When, and How, to Counterattack Trump” New York Times
How not to deal with shoddy construction: “Amnesty in Turkey for Construction Violations Is Scrutinized After Quake” New York Times
What is Contrarian Boston?
I have fielded emails over the past couple weeks asking what Contrarian Boston is about.
Here’s a link to our mission statement – you can find it in the “about” section.
For a more prosaic, nuts-and-bolts description, read on.
An online newsletter, Contrarian Boston publishes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. In Contrarian Boston you’ll find analysis of the day’s news, and original reporting as well.
Our focus is:
· Politics and all levels of governance, good and bad, with an emphasis on state and local, with some national mixed in;
· Economic growth and business, especially real estate, housing and new development projects;
· The media and why it does what it does;
· Education, from school board spats to the doings of multibillion-dollar university endowments;
· And whatever else catches our fancy.