Business

What price is affordable? Luxury apartments at a discount — sort of

Construction at The Beverly in Boston.
Jonathan Wiggs\Globe Staff
Construction at The Beverly in Boston.

To Alice Fonseca, getting an apartment at The Beverly building downtown would be like winning the lottery.

The 14-story project, set to open near North Station early next year, isn’t quite like all the other luxury housing that has sprouted up in downtown Boston recently. Every one of its 249 units will rent at below-market rates, with a one-bedroom starting at $900 a month for tenants of modest incomes. That’s about a third to half the cost of a similar unit just across the street.

“It’s a beautiful area, a dream area,” said Fonseca, who currently lives near Franklin Park, and will enter a lottery later this year that will choose The Beverly’s tenants.

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Instead of the usual mix of a few low-income units amid high-priced apartments, The Beverly is the first new complex in Boston composed entirely of “workforce housing,” an emerging category of midpriced housing with more affordable rents and wider income restrictions. The Beverly is setting aside 20 percent of its units for low-income renters like Fonseca.

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But that leaves the bulk of its units for people significantly higher up the income scale. To make the project work, the developers are stretching the definition of affordable — and middle income.

Families earning up to $198,000 are eligible to live at The Beverly. Rents are tied to income, and the middle-income units range from $1,940 a month for a studio, to more than $3,500 for a three-bedroom. Those prices don’t do much for the half of city residents who earn $35,000 a year or less, said Danielle Sommer, a member of housing advocacy group Keep It 100.

“Maybe they’re affordable for a family earning $120,000, but they’re not affordable for a lot of people,” she said. “We’re not really facing the economic realities in this city.”

In one of the nation’s priciest housing markets, there are lots of people who make what, by most standards, is a pretty good living who can’t afford prevailing rents. With high construction and land costs, developers have struggled to build apartments that fit the budgets of middle-class families.

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That’s what developer Related Beal was trying to do at The Beverly, said president Kimberly Sherman Stamler.

“We conceived this whole project from the start as middle-income,” she said. “The end goal is workforce housing, creating apartments for the people who make this city run.”

Related Beal touts the building as “Modern Apartments. Moderately Priced,” with ads depicting a construction worker, a firefighter, a nurse.

The Beverly’s pitch caught the attention of Jose Correia, who came to a recent meeting in Roxbury to find out more about the building. He works in billing at Tufts Medical Center, a walk or quick Orange Line ride from The Beverly. The 45-year-old said he has friends moving to Brockton, New Bedford, even Rhode Island for cheaper housing.

“Boston right now is crazy when it comes to rents,” he said. “In 10 years, I don’t know if people with low incomes will be able to afford to live in Boston.”

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This, he said as he picked up an application, could be a way to do that.

Replicating The Beverly across the city and region won’t be easy. Financing the $230 million project required Related Beal to cobble together various federal and state housing funds, negotiate a low-cost lease on state-owned land above Interstate 93, and swing a tax break from the city of Boston. Related will operate a Marriott hotel in part of the block-long building, which will help defray the cost.

The Beverly also received a $10.5 million contribution from a neighboring development project made under the city’s affordable-housing program. The result of all these efforts will be rents that will remain below-market for every apartment for 50 years, adjusting annually only to reflect the average increase in incomes across Greater Boston.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
The Beverly is scheduled to open in Boston early next year, with every one of its 249 units renting at below-market rates.

When it opens early next year, The Beverly will have all the bells and whistles of any other new high-end building. On a recent tour, Stamler dodged exposed pipes and stacks of drywall from an upper floor under construction as she pointed out views of the North End, the Greenway, even the Financial District. Kitchens were being fitted with stainless steel appliances and quartz countertops. There will be a rooftop patio and gym, function rooms, even a playroom for kids.

From the outside, Marc Draisen said, The Beverly looks like any other luxury development going up downtown. And at first he thought it was. The executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, who has advocated for more lower-cost housing around the region, Draisen said the mix at The Beverly is unique.

“The developer is creating lots of truly affordable units,” he said. The middle-income apartments, Draisen added, are a “bonus, and certainly they help our housing crisis more than luxury units with no rent cap at all.”

But Justin Steil, an urban planning professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said City Hall needs to push other developers to include more lower-cost units in their projects.

“We really need to ask for deeper affordability,” said Steil, who has studied Boston’s housing market. “Developers are making decent profits, and I don’t think asking for a higher share of affordable units would bring housing construction to a stop.”

Nearly six in ten poor households in Boston spend at least half their income on rent. Even among households earning up 80 percent of area median income — $74,450 for a family of three — 14 percent spend half their income on rent.

Sheila Dillon, Boston’s housing chief, said the Walsh administration is trying to get the balance right. Developers may balk if the city overwhelms them with requests for affordable units. On the other hand, she said, concentrating on units for very-low-income tenants, which require larger subsidies, may leave less money for other types of affordable housing.

“We’ll never be able to meet all of the need,” Dillon said. “So how do we meet some of the need at each level of income?”

The Beverly, she said, is a notable, creative addition, especially in a part of the city where even modestly priced rentals are hard to come by. But by itself it may be too little, too late for some Bostonians.

Kitchens at The Beverly, being built in Boston, are being
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
A look at the interior of an apartment.

Layne Pitts has been entering housing lotteries for five years, in new buildings such as the Ink Block in the South End. The Dorchester resident lives with her daughter, works two jobs, and considers herself solidly middle-class. She makes too much to qualify for most subsidized housing, but too little to comfortably afford a place of her own.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I make too much or I’m a day late and a dollar short.”

Pitts thought about entering more lotteries for buildings such as The Beverly, but decided to look farther afield. The 66-year-old is retiring and relocating to Phoenix, where she will buy a bungalow of her own. Her mortgage? $713 a month.

Residents attended a meeting last month about The Beverly at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Residents attended a meeting last month about The Beverly at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library.

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan. Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.