The Download: House proud

Real estate helped sink the American economy, but real estate can bring it back. However, only if policymakers and developers keep two of the country’s largest demographic groups in mind.

In their article, “The Next Real Estate Boom,” two Washington Monthly contributors, Patrick Doherty and Christopher Leinberger, believe that housing policies that cater to aging baby boomers and their offspring, the millenials, are the only ways to jumpstart that all-important sector and lead the country out of its current economic doldrums.

The wants and needs of the empty nesters and their rental-dependent kids are beginning to dovetail. They are searching for homes in walkable neighborhoods near transit, commerce, and culture. Why sit in traffic when you can walk to work, drive miles to a supermarket if one is right around the corner, or spend the weekend raking and mowing when a small yard will do?  Trendy McMansions are on their way out, smaller homes are in. Communities like Hemet, California, near Los Angeles are even seeing families with Section 8 vouchers now renting the once fashionable digs.

The demand for centrally located housing could also trigger a host of other developments in construction (more energy efficient green buildings); health (more walking); transportation (changing antiquated federal funding mechanisms that favor roads over mass transit); and federal housing policies (reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

The writers also take stock of the metro regions that have put their heads together to come up with “a common vision” that benefits people from all walks of life, not just former suburbanites.  In the Salt Lake City, a light rail project was so successful that voters approved funding to expand the system. Voters have also approved transit expansions in St. Louis, Denver, Los Angeles, and other areas.

Sadly, Massachusetts is behind the eight ball on coming up with ways to pay for transit. Expansion in metro Boston is a dirty word for some, which is understandable, given the financial problems of the MBTA, the long-standing unwillingness of the Legislature to relieve the agency of some of its debt, and the inability of cities and towns to independently raise revenues for anything, much less transportation. MassINC researchers recently called for new thinking in this topic, beginning with a push for regional financing for transportation strategies.

In short, Doherty and Leinberger think that transit-oriented development could be the just the boost the American economy needs. Who knew?

                                                                                                                                                                                        –GABRIELLE GURLEY

PROBATION

Radio Boston interviews Paul Ware, the independent counsel who uncovered a rigged hiring system at the state’s Probation Department. Gov. Deval Patrick, calling the Ware report “chilling,” tells Jim Braude it has given him a sense of urgency about reforming probation. Howie Carr has some advice for embattled Probation chief John O’Brien: Flip on your Beacon Hill patrons before they flip on you.  Barbara Anderson, writing in the Salem News, says she’s tired of saying “That’s outrageous” every time she’s interviewed by an investigative reporter. Yet she says the public never seems to tire of it. Amidst it all, lawmakers defend probation recommendations, WCVB-TV reports.

MASS POLITICS

Former 6th Congressional District candidate Bill Hudak paid up and settled a small-claims complaint filed by his former fundraiser, according to a report in the Salem News.

The Eagle-Tribune weighs in on the spat between Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua and Patricia Commane of Andover. Even though Lantigua and Commane both serve on the Democratic State Committee, Lantigua endorsed Commane’s Republican opponent in the race for the rep seat vacated by Barry Finegold. Commane barely won Lawrence and lost the race.

Meanwhile, Lantigua urges his fire chief to stop complaining about manpower woes and find ways to do more with less. “I would love to have the biggest fire department in the United States. Unfortunately, our resources don’t allow us to do any better than we are doing,” he tells the Eagle-Tribune.

CRIME 

 Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter tells the Herald News a Fall River murder could have been prevented if the repeat felon charged in the shooting had been held without bail on prior drug and gun charges. Sutter says the Legislature gave judges the power last year to hold dangerousness hearings in cases involving guns.

Federal immigration officials were involved in the arrest of two men who were caught unloading 200 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $10 million, the Lynn Item reports. One of the men was a citizen of the Dominican Republic.  

Former Big Dig boss Matthew Amorello admits to driving drunk in Haverhill, reports the Eagle-Tribune.

NATIONAL POLITICS

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the target of much second-guessing lately, turns the tables and questions Congress’s willingness to let unemployment benefits expire. 60,000 Massachusetts residents will lose unemployment benefits on Christmas Day if Congress doesn’t take action.

 In the wake of President Obama freezing federal workers’ salaries, U.S. News and World Report, which ranks anything that can be quantified, has a story about the top paid government employees and the top 10 agencies in size of workforce and average salary. Topping the salary list is the little known Northern Border Regional Commission, with an average salary of $165,300 – for its one employee.

ECONOMY/FINANCE

Globe columnist Brian McGrory breaks a big development story, with developer Ted Oatis confirming that he and Don Chiofaro are considering building on top of the Harbor Garage and staying within the BRA guidelines of 200 feet.

State Street Corp. will lay off 1,400 workers, including 400 in Massachusetts, the Globe reports, jarring news from one of the state’s largest employers

Housing

The Boston City Council is once again looking at the perennial issue of housing problems with the annual influx of students squeezing out year-round residents. Universal Hub reports one solution by Northeastern professor Barry Bluestone calls for building multi-university student villages in downtown Boston for graduate students.

COURTS

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick Ireland, whose nomination to become the court’s chief justice goes before the Governor’s Council today, offered very personal reflections in a recent speech and law review article on the fallout from the SJC’s 2003 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the Globe reports.

EDUCATION

Marty Meehan pulls his name from consideration in the search for a new UMass president, saying he’ll stay put as chancellor of the system’s Lowell campus.

The Globe editorial page tells Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson to grow a backbone.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Ian Bowles, the state’s energy and environmental secretary, decides one term in the governor’s cabinet is enough.  Former Westfield mayor Richard Sullivan, the state conservation and recreation commissioner, moves into the slot.

The Patriot Ledger reports that six months after proposing to build a jointly owned 400-foot wind turbine on Moon Island, Boston and Quincy still haven’t worked out an agreement about how to go about it.

IRONY (or IRANY)

The Jerusalem Post reports Iranian officials are incensed after a Google Earth satellite spotted a giant Star of David on the roof of the Iran Air headquarters. Israelis built the structure more than 30 years ago, but the symbol was never noticed. Via National Review Online.

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