Marshall Cooper leads anti-displacement activists in a chant in front of row houses on [Ruggles Street], where Section 8 tenants say they are being pushed out, during a rally organized by City Life/Vida Urbana. BANNER PHOTO
As rents rise across the city, Dudley Square seems to be drawing real estate developers who aim to attract tenants seeking the more moderate side of market rate housing.
For Roxbury residents who have long clamored for greater diversity of housing and business in the area, this may signal the hoped-for change. Their aspirations are largely reflected in the new tenants of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, with its cafés, boutiques and optometrist/art gallery.
Real estate developers like the Mayo Group apparently are banking on the district’s improved curb appeal as they usher in more market rate units. Brokers and real estate agents also said they expect many tenants to flock in from other neighborhoods as rents elsewhere in the city continue to rise.
But for Roxbury residents living in deeply affordable housing, the picture is bleaker. While rents on market rate apartments are currently near or below city average, they are climbing past the reach of the Section 8 tenants who have long inhabited the Dudley Square area; as a result, many of these tenants are likely to be displaced.
Such tension was visible last Friday, as City Life/Vida Urbana held a rally to protest the removal of long-term tenants, all on Section 8 housing vouchers, from 9-13-15 Ruggles Street. Mayo Group owns the building. The management company, Advanced Property Management, has negotiated for the final five families to move out of the buildings, at which time the company will renovate and offer the units at market price.
Growth of Roxbury’s market rate housing
Terrance Moreau, real estate agent with the Mandrel Company, said that based on conversations with developers, it seems that many potential market rate renters are young professionals and students turning to Roxbury with the expectation of lower prices than in other neighborhoods.
“Roxbury is still considered one of the most affordable places in Boston to live,” he said. “There has not been a significant amount of opportunity for market rate units in Dudley Square.”
Market rate housing currently is cropping up in district with the renovation of 9-13-15 Ruggles Street and the creation of a five-story, 11-unit rental building at 10 Roxbury Street.
A Postlet listing for 13 Ruggles Street Apt 2 puts the three-bedroom unit at $2,700 a month; a Zillow listing for a three-bedroom unit at 10 Roxbury Street is $2,300 a month.
Depending on location and amenities, one-bedrooms are more likely to fetch $1,400-$1,600 in Roxbury this year, Moreau said, and predicted that would increase next year.
These Roxbury numbers remain below city averages. In comparison, Darnell Johnson, regional coordinator of Right to the City Boston, said last fall that average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Boston was $2,400 a
month. Rent Jungle puts the average two-bedroom rent at $2,745.
But market rate prices and offerings are likely to increase.
“There’s great potential for market rate housing in Dudley at this time. From what you see going on now, demand is there,” said Sharif Abdal-Khallaq, a Roxbury-based real estate broker. He said Banker & Tradesman found that rental rates are rising faster in Roxbury than any other Boston neighborhood.
Moreau predicted a growth of market rate housing, noting that 10 Roxbury Street was an early driver of that trend.
“I think in the future, given the developer and investor interest in Roxbury, that we will see more market rate rentals and renters come into the area,” he said. “I do see, over time, there being more market tenants infiltrating Dudley Square, but for now we’re seeing 10 Roxbury Street being an initiator.”
Moreau said that the demand for deeply-affordable housing was about equal to demand for market rate in Roxbury.
Decline of Section 8
Finding housing affordable on a Section 8 voucher is extremely difficult, according to Steve Meacham, organizing coordinator with City Life. He said the system is at risk of becoming ineffective as fewer and fewer places fall within its price level.
Under Section 8, families in Boston select housing and pay 30 percent of their income in rent. The Boston Housing Authority will use funds provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to cover the rest of the rent — up to a certain rent level.
The BHA will either pay what is regarded as the average rent needed for moderately-priced unit in the local market — the “payment standard” — minus the family’s contribution or will pay the gross rent, minus the family contribution, whichever is less. If the landlord charges more than the payment standard, any extra cost is shouldered by the family.
Until recently, landlords preferred Section 8 tenants because the landlords could get more money from pricing rents at payment standards, Meacham said. Now that has changed.
The payment standard for a three-bedroom unit is $2,047 per month, not including utilities, according to Meacham. This falls below the 13 Ruggles Street price by nearly $650. For a one-bedroom, the payment standard is $1,315 for a one-bedroom, not including utilities, he said.
Felicha Young, long-time resident at the Ruggles Street site, was scheduled to move out on Dec. 31. She won an extension until the end of February but still struggles to find anywhere with Section-8 level affordability.
“I don’t know how long it will take me to find an apartment,” she said. And if she cannot find one before February, “[We] will end up most likely in a shelter.”
Meacham predicted a displacement out of Roxbury’s low-income tenants.
Yawu Miller contributed to this article