If you build transit, real estate developers will come. That’s at least how it has played out along the Green Line Extension into Somerville and Medford.
Everett already was drawing the attention of developers before the transit chatter around a potential Silver Line extension began earlier this year. But many in Boston’s real estate circles are less sure of the bus rapid transit line’s potential impact on prices: Housing costs are already on the rise there and in neighboring cities.
“Those areas like Chelsea and Everett have had a good-sized jump in rental costs already, but that’s not a product of the Silver Line coming into play in several years,” said Tucker White, the director of research at real estate firm Hunneman.
Rents across Chelsea and Everett increased by 3 percent for a studio and 8 percent for a one-bedroom apartment from the end of 2017 to the end of 2019, according to MLS data. The Chelsea extension of the Silver Line began service in 2018, but the first public mention of a potential Everett extension into Somerville and Cambridge wasn’t announced until the following year.
“Everett and Chelsea are definitely benefiting in the same way East Boston has from overflow taking place from the core of Boston and even in Somerville, Cambridge, and Charlestown now,” White said. “You don’t have major employers going in, but you’ll have plenty of residents going in.”
Specific rental data for the Green Line Extension corridor wasn’t available, but the price-per-square foot for an apartment in Somerville within a half-mile of the planned Green Line railway rose by 7 percent between the end of 2017 — when the extension was approved — and the end of 2019. Overall rents in Somerville grew by 6 percent for a studio and 5 percent for a one-bedroom.
“The Green Line is more of a concrete thing that’s happening. It’s not just evidenced by multifamily, but you have commercial office and lab product banking on that,” White said. “The Silver Line doesn’t have nearly the amount of ridership and frequency of the Green Line. There will be a bump in rents, but I don’t think it will be as much a direct product of the Silver Line going in.”
Chatter around the speculative soar in real estate values around the Green Line Extension began well before the first shovel hit the ground. Condos sold for more than their listing price, and a 2014 Metropolitan Area Planning Council study warned that monthly rents could increase as much as 67 percent around the new stations in areas like Union Square.
Commercial development has followed suit, with developments like the Boynton Yards mixed-use project in Somerville.
But this doesn’t mean White is discounting what’s happening in Everett, either. He just doesn’t see the city’s success tethered to Silver Line transit speculation.
Wynn Resorts built Encore Boston Harbor and alluded to long-term development opportunities in the area well before any Silver Line corridor was proposed. Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s plan for widespread mixed-use redevelopment in an area known as the Commercial Triangle similarly arrived before talk of extending the Silver Line.
If anything, DeMaria was vocal more about a potential aerial gondola running between City Hall to Encore and then to Assembly Station in Somerville on the Orange Line. That idea followed Millennium Partners’ ill-fated $100 million gondola plan to run from South Station to the eastern edge of the Seaport.
But gondola talks have quieted, and all eyes are now on the Silver Line — including the mayor’s.
“The extension of the Silver Line is critical to growing Everett in a manner that is inclusive of people of all income levels, minimizes impacts to the environment, and provides mobility options to all Everett residents that are unavailable today. Despite being only 2½ miles from downtown Boston and Cambridge, we are the only inner-core city that lacks both a rapid transit connection or even a one-seat ride to all of the major job centers in the region. The Silver Line will allow us to become a much more accessible city for our existing residents, new residents, and employers,” DeMaria said in a statement. “It is my administration’s vision that by allowing for adequate numbers of new housing units, both affordable and market-rate, and designing these new neighborhoods along the Silver Line such that they are walkable and accessible to transit, that we will be able to maintain Everett as a welcoming, inclusive, and accessible City both for our current residents and for all those who wish to make their home here.”
Some developers also view it as a game-changer.
“The ability to get from Everett to the Seaport on one seat, that’s a huge advantage for that area. Not many places can say they have that,” said John Tocco, the developer behind the planned 21-story Sky Everett apartment building. “It’s tremendously transformative if it goes forward.”
Tocco isn’t banking on the Silver Line — the tower could be directly on the extended route if it moves forward — in getting people to his project. But he also strongly supports the plan, as it would set the stage for a so-called urban ring transit network around Boston and into high-tech and life science markets like Cambridge and Somerville.
“That’s the long-term vision and the holy grail of the Silver Line,” Tocco said. “This area in Everett is just the natural fit to put people to bed, wake up, and go to work.”
City leaders like Jay Monty, Everett’s transportation planner, are making sure the long-term vision entails making the Silver Line a more reliable experience through Everett than it is through neighborhoods like the South End and Downtown Crossing, where the bus inevitably merges with regular car traffic.
Everett already has dedicated bus lanes and intends to have a similar right-of-way for the Silver Line, including utilizing some portions of land adjacent to a commuter rail line solely for the proposed bus rapid transit line.
“It’s important to us to have the right transit infrastructure here first,” Monty said. “To do it later is too expensive and time-consuming.”
Early signs of a residential development boom are reason enough to move ahead as quickly as possible to avoid the gridlock seen in other parts of the city. Roughly 3,000 new apartment units have been permitted for Everett in a former industrial area where the Silver Line would pass, Monty said.
Given the Silver Line extension hasn’t even moved past an initial feasibility study and developers are already pouring into the area, one might think this part of the region is poised to become Somerville 2.0 with soaring housing costs. For now, City Hall is downplaying any potential pricing pain on the horizon.
“Price-wise, I think what you’re seeing there is nothing like what happened with Somerville with the Green Line,” Monty said. “Somerville saw a lot of ‘condo-ization’ of existing real estate. We’re not seeing that as much. The new construction is so far just apartments, and land values are going up from when they were industrial uses.”
Monty also recognizes that fears of displacement permeate Greater Boston, but he notes that Everett has a variety of affordable housing initiatives and plans for greater density to provide residents with more housing stability, even if the Silver Line does arrive and drive up costs.
“We’re doing everything we can so folks who live here today have the option to stay in Everett,” Monty said.
Cameron Sperance can be reached at email@example.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.
This article was originally published in the Boston Globe on April 4, 2021. Click here to view the original article.