Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Mobile Office: How "City Hall To Go" Will Help Boston This Summer

High Complaints and Low Morale For Greater Boston Residents

Citizens of the Greater Boston area have a strong solidarity - about their complaints living here in the Hub.  Just a few of our top morale adversaries:

  • Unpredictable bad weather 
  • Lack of a late night MBTA services
  • Trigger-happy parking meter maids 
  • Plights at the Registry of Motor Vehicles with unexpected trips to City Hall
  • Late buses and slow trains
  • Continual spikes in toll and T fares 
  • The honking, ohh the honking

The odds certainly seem stacked against anyone trying to navigate through the center of the City.  (Never mind the increasingly standard MBTA crashes due to driver sneezing.)  At least we have our professional sports teams who have championed our faithful City over the past twelve years and piqued our morale, right?  But even in an athletic dynasty we need a Bostonian chip on our shoulder, and City Hall is making some serious efforts to help Boston area dwellers lighten up in Spring 2014. 

Mayor Marty Walsh shakes hands with a Boston resident while in the City Hall To Go truck

Public Access: How "City Hall To Go" Positively Rolls Local Municipalities in a New Direction for Boston  

Last winter, there were a series of spin-doctoring ideas from the mayor's and governor's office, including a green-lit project to launch the MBTA late night service for all trains and main bus routes on Friday and Saturday nights.  Most visibly, the City Hall To Go truck is mobilizing services to those who live outside of the downtown area.  During the pilot program for the truck last December, Menino stated to the Boston Globe: "City Hall To Go builds on our mission to shake up the status quo in municipal services and offer a new way for Boston residents to get information and engage with the city on a whole host of services we offer."  Menino's offering of this new benefit was one of his last stands, and has helped his incumbent Marty Walsh ride in on a white horse (or rather in a red and blue truck) earlier this January.  The truck is modeled after the popular food service and ice cream trucks that have recently taken over the Hub.

The nation's pioneer municipal mobile truck services include:
  • Handling parking ticket payments and disputes 
  • Ordering meter cards
  • Requests for birth, death, and marriage certificates 
  • Voter registration 
  • Registration for residential parking permits and dog licenses
  • Paying property and excise taxes 
Program organizer Katharine Lusk from former mayor Thomas Menino's office stated: "It's another way of connecting with the community."  The truck follows a schedule travelling Allston, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Brighton, Charlestown, Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Fenway, Hyde Park, Roxbury, South End, and South Boston anywhere between the hours of 9:00am and 7:30pm.  You can even follow the truck on Twitter for a direct connection with City Hall To Go. 

Mitigating the inconvenience of traveling downtown to City Hall during the work week, especially now that the Government Center T-stop is currently shut down until 2016, gives great relief to city commuters relying on the less than reliable public transit.  Hey, at least you don't have to use up a vacation day.  

Final Thoughts

The City Hall To Go truck adds to the growing new sense of city living: The current surge in condo development and sales across the Greater Boston area have been helping turn around the longtime stagnation of the local commercial and residential real estate markets. Boston tourists and residents can now share bicycles, stay out late (something the City's businesses have been pleased about too), and have coffee with the Mayor in the morning. The mobilization of municipalities in this truck could help add to the community's "Boston Strong" recovery sentiment from the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, as well as the Back Bay fire that took the lives of two firefighters this past March.

The truck also makes a great impact on residents who may not be Internet-savvy, have limited fluency in English, or may be clueless about going through the process to handle such issues that require a trip to City Hall.  So, what will we complain of next?

Do you think the City Hall To Go truck will be successful, or will have a short-term life rolling around town?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Living For The City: The 2014 Boston Condo Craze

The Boston real estate market is like seeing two-way traffic on a hill, with condo sales driving up and home sales precipitously going southbound.  The purpose of this article is to detail whether 2014 will have the condo bubble will burst, or will it only continue to float and rise for developers and condo owners. Home sales in the real estate market continue to lag in the Hub. With the rise of commercial real estate in the Seaport area, now being marketed as the Innovative District, developers and residents alike are looking to buy in.  But this is not an indicator of the demand for wanting to live in the city. 

This End Up, or Down?

Boston will always be one of the top apartment markets in the US. We can cite The Hub's unmatched college student population, the continuous influx of transient young professionals moving in and out of the city, and city dwellers who cannot afford to buy expensively priced homes within and outside the city limits. As prices continue to rise in the local real estate markets, first-time home-buyers are inevitably being bottlenecked into the condo market that developers are now attempting to make affordable to them.

Plus, as reviewed in our March 2014 PPS article discussing the quality of a condo versus home lifestyle, there are many conveniences offered to residents of condos that are not afforded to those who live in apartments or single family homes.

Moving into the Lap of Luxury 
Graph courtesy of

We have not yet even accounted for the booming luxury apartment market that is complimenting the local commercial real estate market, or the wealthy home-buyers who are willing to pay for living in prime locations like the Seaport. Veteran Boston architect Merrill Diamond of Diamond Sinacori LLC wrote on his company's website in 2011 predicting: "Yes, there will be a glut of apartments in Boston." 

Turns out, he was right, but his forecast was referring to condominium apartments; not rental apartments. He also mentioned "I never thought there would be enough wealthy people to fill up all these apartments on the waterfront." Diamond mentioned that 2014 would be the "tipping point" in which developers are going to switch their long-term hold strategies to condos from apartments. This is to bolster their short-term profits from the resurgence of condo demand, being that consumers now realize they can own a condo with the same price that they could be paying to rent an apartment in BostonAccording to this Standard & Poors graph,  Boston condo prices have rivaled and outsold those in New York City since the mid-1990s, and continue to rise into this current decade.

Three hot spots for development are the South End, South Boston, and Charlestown, where prices continue to spike. In a recent article in the Boston Herald titled Boston Needs Condos In A Hurry construction has begun for two luxurious high-end condos in Fan Pier at 22 Liberty Drive, which will hold 118 condos, and 450 condos that will be in the Millennium Tower downtown to be completed in 2016. And it surely won't stop there. The former armory on  Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown is being converted, St. Augustine's Church in South Boston will have 29 new condos developed, Meridian Street in East Boston is slated to have 66 new condos, and even Parcel U next to the Forest Hills MBTA station on Hyde Park Avenue was recently approved to have a $14-million project for 50-60 market-rate townhouses. There are too many developments to list here, and local real estate agencies may find themselves with a surplus of listings as a result. 

Final Thoughts

We might ask ourselves "how long will this strategy work?" It is easier said than done for developers to meet middle class home-buyers halfway in covering their cost of the investment while lowering their price point per-square feet, as it is for these same home-buyers to step up outside their means with cash offerings that could be hard to follow up on with financing. If more development takes place, there will eventually be a "tipping point" for demand amongst those who can and cannot afford to buy a condo. 

Will developers and condo building owners find their backs against the wall and resort to sub-prime credit holders in earnest to fill these spaces as they continue to buy  and convert abandoned buildings (i.e. old schools, jails, office buildings)? Or will this continue to be a success for developers in their business initiatives? Tell us your thoughts...