Two years ago, developer Cathartes Investments made a deal with the South Boston Betterment Trust. In exchange for letting Cathartes build luxury housing on a large parcel near the site of the future convention center in South Boston, the Betterment Trust would be given land and seed money to build 130 units of low-income housing. The Betterment Trust, which is controlled by South Boston politicians James Kelly and James Lynch, had the authority to vet the Cathartes project because of the "memorandum of understanding" signed by Kelly, Lynch, and Mayor Tom Menino in 1998,which set up the Betterment Trust and empowered it to negotiate with developers of South Boston real estate for concessions to the South Boston community (see my June 17, 2000 cartoon for more info on this).
The memorandum of understanding has been under seige all summer, since it violates at least the spirit of linkage agreements mandating that developers' concessions to affordable housing be shared equitably by different neighborhoods (and different races). Last week, capitalizing on the growing ill repute of the Betterment Trust, which is increasingly portrayed in the media as a bunch of self-serving extortionists, the Mayor's Office and the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority) announced that they had worked out a new deal with Cathartes. Under the new regime, Cathartes would develop many of the low-income units themselves in exchange for permission to increase the number of luxury units in the development. While Cathartes appears to prefer and accept the new plan, the real estate industry has expressed displeasure that the BRA would impose any conditions on a housing developer. The threat to "invest elsewhere" was expressed by Samuel Tyler of the realtor-dominated Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
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