Boston has one of the same problems that plague New York, San Francisco, and other absurdly high-priced places to live: Foreign speculation and rampant AirBnB abuse. Wealthy investors (from outta town! furriners!) can soak up expensive real estate but not live here — or become absentee quasi-hoteliers and rent it out at jacked up AirBnB prices.
This complicates the narrative of YIMBY activists that more housing supply — wherever on the income ladder it’s created — is what’s needed. Under the current circumstances, well-heeled folks who do live and work in Boston will still gentrify triple deckers in Dorchester, and not stay in nifty downtown high-rises.
Now New Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards has proposed a somewhat blunt instrument: A speculation tax.
Edwards said she doesn’t buy the idea that all the new housing development going on in Boston now is going to do anything for the people who cannot afford even the “affordable” units developers are required to include, because it’s based on the “area median income,” which keeps increasing as more well off people move into the city.
“I do not believe we can build our way out this problem,” especially in an era when growing numbers of units are being rented out by concerns such as Airbnb rather than being rented or sold to actual residents, she said.
Her proposed ordinance would levy fees on property flipping and units bought by foreign speculators and would limit home-share units to just one unit in owner-occupied buildings.
The funds from the fees would go to buy or build units actually affordable to Boston residents not in the market for luxury space.
[I would like to know how Edwards’s proposal defines “speculation”, property-flipping, et al. Striking out on finding a link – stay tuned.]
Walsh’s ordinance divides rentals into three tiers, differentiating between a space in a primary residence rented while the operator is present, a “home share” in which the entire primary residence is rented, and an “investor unit” that is non-owner and non-tenant occupied.
There would be no annual limit on the number of booked nights for “limited share units” in a primary residence with the operator present, while home shares and investor units would be capped at 90 nights per year.
Edwards is skeptical of the need for more housing development. Count me as respectfully skeptical of that skepticism; but surely whatever housing is built ought to house actual human beings who live in town. There ought to be a healthy enough market for that, even without the steroidal capital flows of big-time international speculation. Boston’s a place to live, not a hotel for favored industries.