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In the debate over Austin Street — and other projects — the term “luxury apartments” gets tossed around a lot and sometimes, I believe, inappropriately.

What actually is a “luxury apartment?” And would 28 Austin Street be a “luxury apartment” building?

I’ve been surfing the internet and finding that there is no USDA-type agreed upon standard for what qualifies an apartment as “luxury.”

One site says “a concierge is the most important factor in whether an apartment is luxury” while Forbes offers advice about how much to tip your parking attendant and warns about costly swimming pool fees.

Yet another website says a one bedroom apartment, “even if it is accompanied by a swimming pool and Jacuzzi, can never be a luxury apartment…unless the floor to ceiling height is more than 11 feet in every room. “

Yet another site offers this…

Luxury apartments feature things like a doorman, bellman, security guards, premium countertops, top of the line appliances, premium floorings, on-site parking, valet parking, dry cleaning pickup, concierge, on-site laundry facilities, on-site exercise room, spa, restaurant, room service (more condo-hotel types), etc. etc. etc.

And then there’s this from the Boston Globe from a few weeks back:

The marketing term “luxury” has taken on a life of its own. In one sense, luxury housing is like obscenity; you know it when you see it. Sub-Zero freezers, private dining clubs, a uniformed doorman keeping 99-percenters out.

So is it appropriate to call the proposed project at 28 Austin Street – with breathtaking views of the Star Market and Mass Pike or the Senior Center and Walnut Street — a “luxury apartment” project?

I don’t think so.

28 Austin Street will not have a door man, a bell man, valet parking, subzero freezers, a swimming pool, a spa or room service (although area pizza places deliver). Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think 11 foot ceilings are in the design either.

What 28 Austin Street will have is 68  one-and-two bedroom apartments, including 17 affordable units.

Still some folks are incredulous that Austin Street Partners has been describing their 51 market rate apartments as being for “middle class households.”

Like “luxury apartments” there is no official definition for “middle class.”  But in Greater Boston, the median income for a household of four is $98,500.  (In Newton, it’s more). That means a middle class four person household would have incomes ranging from $49,250 (50% of median) to $147,750 (150% of median.)

As ASP illustrated in one presentation using numbers from a 2013 city earnings report, a two bedroom market rate apartment renting for $3,200 a month would be affordable — using United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards — for many couples, including two mid-level city employees.

For example, according to ASP, a building inspector and a librarian or a police officer and an English teacher or a fire lieutenant and school nurse could, according to HUD definitions, afford that $3,200 two-bedroom apartment. (This assumes allocating 30 percent of income into housing costs.)

And then there’s those 11 units that will be rented to households earning 80% of area median income and six homes reserved for very low income households earning less than 50% of median income.

Does this mean that Austin Street solves all our housing problems or that everyone, including many single wage earners, can afford to live there?

It does not.

But can we at least agree to stop calling this a “luxury apartment building”?







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