Towering Excess: The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom for Bostonians

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

Boston is experiencing a luxury real estate boom, with thousands of new luxury residential and rental units in different stages of development. A decade from now, Boston’s skyline and population demographics will be fundamentally altered by decisions being made today.

This boom does have benefits, providing good jobs in the building trades and increasing property tax revenue for the city. But the boom is not helping address Boston’s acute affordable housing crisis. Bostonians today have a median household income of $58,500. Average Bostonians cannot afford the new luxury condos. They will, unfortunately, feel their impact. Boston’s luxury boom figures to push up land and housing costs and accelerate Boston’s already troubling disparities of income, wealth and opportunity.

Suffolk County, the jurisdiction where Boston resides, rates as the most unequal county in Massachusetts, our nation’s sixth most unequal state in terms of the gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else. And Boston’s racial wealth divide will only worsen if current trends continue. One marker of those trends: In 2015, not one single home mortgage loan was issued for African-American and Latino families in the Seaport District and the Fenway, two Boston neighborhoods with thousands of new luxury housing units.

City officials are failing to understand how such towers play a key role in the global hidden wealth infrastructure, a shadowy system that’s hiding wealth and masking ownership, all for the purpose of helping the holders of private fortunes avoid taxes and oversight of illicit activities. Many Boston luxury properties are functioning, in effect, as wealth storage lockers for global capital.

This report examines how Boston could better protect the public interest and, in the process, capture some of the current luxury real estate wealth flow to support affordable housing for Boston residents. We focus here on residential condominium ownership as a form of “wealth storage” and examine twelve of the highest-priced and presently occupied luxury housing developments constructed in Boston over the last decade.

  • These twelve projects, totaling 1,805 units, have an average condominium price of $3.02 million, a price 50 times higher than Boston’s median household income.
  • Over 35 percent of these units are owned by limited liability companies (LLCs) or trusts that obscure the real owners and beneficiaries. Almost 40 percent of the LLCs owning Boston luxury properties have organized themselves in the state of Delaware, the premiere secrecy jurisdiction in the United States. This Delaware connection shields the owners from public detection. • Of these 1,805 luxury units, 64 percent do not claim a residential exemption, a clear indication that the condo owners are not using their units as their primary residence.
  • Some of Boston’s new luxury buildings stand out as textbook “wealth storage” properties. The 51 condominium units above the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at the Prudential Center, for instance, sold for an average of $6.5 million. Over 56 percent of these units are owned by trusts, LLCs, and shell corporations, and fewer than 18 percent claim a residential exemption. The Millennium Tower has 443 units averaging $2.4 million in assessed value. Over 35 percent are owned by shell corporations and trusts, and almost 80 percent of the units do not claim the residential exemption. Half of the LLCs that own units at Millennium Towers are organized in Delaware.
  • This report’s authors have identified a number of “red flag” transactions that in other jurisdictions would likely trigger a Treasury Department FinCEN criminal investigation. These include a large number of properties purchased through cash transactions by shell corporations and international buyers. Cash transactions greatly increase the risk that the properties involved are being used to launder money from criminal activities and speed capital flight.

Boston’s past and current city administrations have permitted an explosion in luxury real estate property construction that is reshaping the city’s skyline and economic composition. With thousands of new luxury units either under construction or seeking permits, city officials ought to be seriously exploring the perils these units pose.

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks. Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom, and he has become a leading national voice for the 80 percent of the public who no longer find themselves within shouting distance of the Washington and Wall Street powers at the top. He publishes a populist political newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown.” He is a New York Times best-selling author, and has written seven books including, Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back; If the Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There’s Nothing In the Middle Of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. His newspaper column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work