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The old and all-too-common story of the developer who snaps up an apartment building only to jack up the rents could get a rewrite if Boston housing officials have their way.City Hall is looking to recruit white knight developers, investors and housing groups interested in buying rental buildings and offering a substantial portion of the units at below market rents.

The Department of Neighborhood Development is rolling out a $7.5 million loan fund to help fuel acquisition of rental buildings by prospective owners who agree to offer at least 40 percent of the apartments at below-market prices.
And the new owners must also agree to keep the current tenants, agreeing to the requirement that “no tenant in good standing will be displaced from their unit,” according to press release accompanying the rollout by the Department of Neighborhood Development.The new landlords must also agree to keep the rents on the below-market units at “affordable levels” for at least the next 50 years.That means rents affordable to families making 60 percent of area median income, or $41,220, according to federal guidelines.

“Boston is committed to making our city a home for everyone, no matter their age, background or financial status,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in a press release. “This $7 million investment is another leap towards creating affordable housing for all our residents.”The spark for the initiative comes from the fierce competition for rental properties across Boston by investors and developers interested in cashing in on soaring rental rates and booming demand. The competition, in turn, has driven prices of multifamily properties to new heights as well.Nonprofit housing groups and affordable housing developers have found themselves outmatched by investors with easy access to the cash needed to close a deal quickly.

Under the new Acquisition Opportunity Program, community development corporations and other developers can apply to get pre-approved for funding, bolstering their ability to make offers and compete when rental properties hit the market.Development teams interested in taking part must compete for funding, submitting proposals under a city-run vetting process. Those selected will be certified by the city and pre-qualified for a certain amount.The initiative is focused particularly on preserving apartment buildings that already have a significant number of affordable units and that are completely or partially occupied.

“Programs like the Acquisition Opportunity Program ensures Boston residents will not be priced out of their homes and Neighborhoods,” Walsh said in a statement.

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New York’s super luxury market, long a trend setter with astronomical prices and penthouses in the clouds, now has a reason to envy Boston’s fast-growing array of gold-plated condo towers.To put it simply, Boston’s luxury condo market is hot right now, while New York’s is not.The pace of deluxe condo sales is slowing in the Big Apple, even as it speeds up in Boston

The shift comes as developers in both cities scramble to build ever more expensive high-rise homes for the rich.Yet while Boston certainly has a lot of construction going on right now, it is a whole different ballgame in New York, where so many new luxury apartments and condos are either under construction or opening that it has created a backlog.

“New York’s premiere market is actually slowing while Boston’s is speeding up,” noted Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s chief economist. “It’s an interesting dovetail of the two premiere markets. They started at the same point last year and now they are going in opposite directions.”The number of luxury condos and homes still on the market in New York after 30 days jumped to 75 percent this April, up from 73 percent the same time last year. By contrast, luxury properties are selling faster now in Boston, from 70.3 percent still on the market after a month to 67 percent.And it’s not just the pace of sales that’s slowing in New York, but prices as well, especially in the super high end of the market.A planned, 900-foot-tall Midtown Manhattan condo tower wound up in bankruptcy court in April, with the developer battling a foreclosure attempt by his lenders.

Another skyline-topping tower at 157 W. 57<sup>th</sup> Street – One57 – has struggled to sell the last quarter of its units amid the slowing market, <em>The Wall Street Journal</em> recently reported.The setbacks have come amid a building boom that is seeing tens of thousands of new apartments and condos take shape across New York, including a profusion of fashionable, pencil-thin luxury towers on Manhattan.While more and more new condos and apartments are flooding the New York market, one of its main sources of demand for units at the gilded top of the market, wealthy foreign buyers, are pulling back amid economic jitters in China and other parts of the globe.

The resale price in Manhattan grew at its slowest pace in the first quarter since the fall of 2012, rising 3.8 percent to $978,765, according to StreetEasy, while prices in Brooklyn have been slowing since the start of the year.And prices are likely to continue to cool over the coming year. Manhattan is expected to see prices rise by a more modest 2.6 percent, while Brooklyn will downshift even more rapidly, to a 1.7 percent growth rate, StreetEasy predicts.While downtown Boston is also seeing a surge in luxury construction, demand is still high, suggesting the luxury market here has yet to reach its saturation point, industry observers say.

Overall, the Boston area suffers from the effects of years of under-building of housing of all types, driven by intense opposition to new development and a scarcity of available land to build on.That means Boston could very well see another two years or more of luxury condo construction before seeing a slowdown in prices, noted Merit McIntyre, president of Coldwell Banker Brokerage in New England.

“We have no land left and the desire to move into the city, or as close to it as possible, is a huge desire for buyers,” he said.
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Since April 2015, home values in Boston have risen even faster than experts thought they would, increasing 5.5 percent in the last year, according to a recent report from listing site Trulia. Part of that rise, especially when it comes to condos, can be attributed to the small number of units for sale in the area.

But Constantine Valhouli, the cofounder of NeighborhoodX, a neighborhood-specific reporting and data startup, proves with his latest data visualization that there is a lot of variation in prices among Boston neighborhoods, and even within neighborhoods.

Valhouli looked at almost every condo listing in the Boston area in May 2016, focusing on asking prices for market-rate units. He found that Back Bay contains the most expensive condos in the city when measured by price per square foot, but also that it has the biggest range of prices. The notoriously high-priced neighborhood saw condo prices as low as $651 per square foot and as high as $3,106 per square foot.

The lowest price per square foot in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End are higher than some neighborhoods’ highest price per square foot, like Roslindale, Dorchester and Hyde Park.

Valhouli said that the number of listings in each neighborhood ranged from under a dozen to over a hundred. He excluded from his analysis income-restricted and affordable housing, as well as foreclosures, short sales, and properties positioned as development sites.

“The reason we did price ranges rather than the regular single price points (representing a neighborhood average) usually seen in real estate charts is that ranges show what the lowest asking price in a neighborhood is,” Valhouli noted. “While a single price chart bar seems to imply that prices go from zero up to that average. This isn’t the case in Boston, where the lowest price in some neighborhoods is higher than the most expensive property in others.”

Valhouli said it is interesting to note that the most expensive listing price per square foot in Hyde Park ($192 per square foot) is still less than the least expensive in Roxbury ($231 per square foot) or Jamaica Plain ($239 per square foot).

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