Dec 2, 2022 - News

Jamaica Plain’s at-risk affordable housing

The front of the Forbes apartment building in Jamaica Plain.

The Forbes building on Centre Street. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

A Jamaica Plain apartment building housed low-income tenants under an affordable housing law for four decades, but a debate is now brewing over what should happen to the building now that the law's restrictions have ended.

What's happening: Paul Clayton, who heads the investor group that owns the Forbes building, is seeking millions in city and state aid to renovate the building and government subsidies to keep rental units affordable. 

  • Talks have been on and off since 2016. But now that they've been revived, some low-income tenants could lose their affordability protections and face rent hikes before Clayton reaches a deal with officials.

Why it matters: Apartment buildings like the Forbes — formerly rent-restricted under the "13A" law — have made up roughly 1,000 of the city's more than 57,000 affordable units. But they stood out because they offered affordable options in walkable neighborhoods that have become increasingly expensive in recent years, says Sheila Dillon, the city's housing chief. 

  • Other former 13A buildings have been converted into market-rate housing or refinanced and preserved as affordable through government deals over the past five years, Dillon says. 
  • The Forbes is the city's last 13A building with an uncertain fate, and negotiations come as landlords throughout the city face pressure from the housing market to raise rents. 

What they're saying: "I didn't know this 13A [law] was going to come up, finish off, so I can't afford to pay market-rate rent," says George O'Keefe, a former 13A resident and a retired state employee who relies on pension payments to pay his reduced rent.

By the numbers: Of the Forbes' 147 units, roughly half have lower rents in part because of a program created to preserve affordable housing formerly covered by 13A. When the last round of restrictions ran out, tenants in these units signed a six-month lease that expires in late December.

  • Another 37 low-income tenants use vouchers under the state's Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program to help pay their rent. Their subsidies lapse next October, and their protections end altogether around 2026. 

State of play: While negotiations with city and state officials continue, Clayton's representatives say the group wants to implement a rent freeze.

  • The investment group asked the state to waive a $17,200 monthly payment it makes to MassHousing under the MRVP so the group can afford the rent freeze while it works out a deal, according to Jeffrey Sacks, an attorney representing Clayton.
  • State officials have not responded to the request, Sacks says.

Flashback: The Forbes building, formerly owned by an investment group led by Clayton and his family, received state financing under 13A and private funding through a group of investors including Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the mid-1970s.

  • Representatives for Kraft did not respond to an email.

Market conditions have drastically changed since the agreement with investors was first made. 

  • Still, investors expect to get market rate money for the building, or at least find funding to cover their losses if they keep units affordable for low-income tenants, says Sacks.

Yes, but: Clayton has a grand plan to buy out the current investors, renovate the building and make all 147 units affordable — a proposal that requires government funding, Sacks says. 

  • Clayton seeks $20 million each from the city and state, in addition to affordable housing subsidies. So far, Sacks says city and state officials seemed amenable to offering $10 million each, half as much.

Details: Dillon says the city has not formally made any funding commitments, and that officials have asked Clayton's team to review its numbers because $20 million in city funding is unusually high.

  • The state Department of Housing and Community Development recently offered Clayton long-term rental assistance for several units under a 20-year contract, a spokesperson said. DHCD did not elaborate on what the terms were.
  • Clayton did not accept the offer because it didn't offer capital funding to renovate the Forbes building, Sacks says.
  • "I don't think anybody would dispute that the rents provided under the 13A program for Forbes were not sufficient to meet the operating and capital needs of the building during the operations of that program," Sacks says. 

The bottom line: Clayton, city officials and affordable housing officials all agree they don't want Jamaica Plain to lose these affordable housing options at the Forbes building, but they remain far from making a deal happen. 

  • Some tenants could face a rent hike in 2023 if Clayton's request for a reprieve in payments isn't approved.
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