The Uber Rich Are Stashing Cash in Boston Luxury Real Estate, Report Says

"It’s not a home. It’s a wealth-storage unit.”

(Photo by Nelson48)

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A large percentage of Boston’s luxury condos are going to LLCs and trusts rather than owner-occupants according to a new study, which claims that the city’s high-end building boom isn’t doing much to address the local housing shortage.

Researchers from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) examined property records for roughly 1,800 condos in 12 newer luxury buildings throughout the city, the Boston Globe reports. The condos generally sell for over $3 million apiece.

They found that over 35 percent of the units were owned by LLCs or trusts that obscured the real owners and beneficiaries. What’s more, 64 percent of the owners didn’t claim the residential exemption offered by the city, which may indicate that Boston isn’t their primary residence.

“I wouldn’t even call these buildings a housing market,” study author Chuck Collins recently told the Globe. “It’s just another asset class for a segment of investors looking for an alternative to the stock market. It’s not a home. It’s a wealth-storage unit.”

And some of the city’s new luxury buildings stand out as textbook examples of the problem, according to IPS. The 51 units above the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, for example, sold for an average of $6.5 million each. Nearly 60 percent are owned by trusts, LLCs, and shell corporations, and fewer than 18 percent of those “owners” claim a residential exemption.

Thousands more seven-figure condos are under construction, but the average Boston resident earns $59,000 a year, according to the report. The luxury units, therefore, function as a potent symbol of the inequalities plaguing the city.

From the report:

Boston’s luxury boom figures to 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.

According to the Globe, luxury developers and managers contested a number of the report’s findings. Many high-end developers throughout the city cap investor sales at 20 or 25 percent of a building, Sue Hawkes, managing director of Collaborative Cos. (which markets luxury properties) told the paper. And there are other reasons that buyers “might use shell companies to make their purchases: privacy, for one, or to hold the property in trust for tax or liability reasons,” the Globe reports.

“You don’t want a building with a bunch of dark windows,” Hawkes told the paper. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”

Still, the specter of those dark buildings is pushing officials to craft policy incentivizing owner-occupants from London to Vancouver, as Next City has covered. London mayor Sadiq Khan has been working on hiking up taxes on high-end homes that are left unoccupied most of the time. In Portland and Los Angeles officials are crafting legislation that ties luxury development with funds for subsidized housing. And in Vancouver, a new tax on thousands of so-called “empty homes” has raised around $30 million for affordable housing programs, according to the Globe.

“We have these glaring wealth gaps in our city, and we’re adding thousands of units for uber-rich people,” Collins told the paper. “The question becomes, who is Boston for?”

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: affordable housingboston

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