With Thanksgiving just days away, it’s time for our annual turkey shoot, where we let loose a healthy dose of verbal buckshot on everything from projects gone wrong to spineless pols and NIMBY neighbors. 

This year’s turkeys include an estate scheme masquerading as the next big tech start up, NIMBY neighbors on the Cape with “health concerns” over new housing and, alas, a pair of top Bay State politicians who can’t seem to grasp that bold action is needed to deal with soaring home prices and traffic gridlock. 

And let’s not forget Bernie Sanders’ NIMBY revolution, which has managed to leave a trail of thwarted housing proposals wherever the campaign trail leads the Democratic presidential candidate, including Cambridge. 

We’ll take them in order, starting with the biggest gobblers and working our way down. 

1. WeWork and its Big Hustle 

Yes, the officesharing startup and its recently jettisoned CEO Adam Neumann is biggest, baddest turkey of them all this year. With his surfer dude shoulderlength hair, leather jacket and t-shirts, the WeWork founder cultivated a techno-chic, rebel entrepreneur look.  Whether intentional or not, it played into a larger hustle by the office-sharing firm, one that I spelled out in this space this past spring.  

Photo courtesy of Ajay Suresh / CC-BY 2.0

WeWork went all out to pitch itself to investors as a cool, world-shaking tech startup, not a boring old real estate firm, even as it scooped up massive amounts of office space in downtown Boston and other cities in what amounted to a glorified rent arbitrage scheme.  

“The We Company’s mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness,” the company proclaimed, even as it pushed a business model right out of Real Estate 101: Paying top dollar to office landlords for space, redesigning it to give it a superficial, tech company feel, and then cramming in five times as many people as had worked there before with legions of freelancers, entrepreneurs, solo practitioners and other assorted small businesses.  

Crazily enough, WeWork founder Neumann and his minions almost pulled it offWeWork’s IPO was initially valued at a ludicrous $46 billion before investors wised up and pulled the plug on the offering.  

Now WeWork is scrambling to stay afloat, with plans to slash thousands of jobs. And there’s no confusion anymore about just what WeWork is: a real estate company, and a pretty risky one at that. 

2. Cranky Cape Neighbors 

Has someone been messing with the water in Dennis? Housing prices have risen so high that a third of the town now qualifies for affordable housing – only they wouldn’t have to if grumpy property owners and NIMBY neighbors would stop filing lawsuits against every new housing proposal to hit town.  

A commercial property owner on Route 28 is suing the Dennis Planning Board for approving four duplexes, including two below-market affordable units, citing the clear danger of an adverse health impact to the neighboring properties.” Apparently, the plaintiff has a bone to pick over septic regulations, though being unable to afford to put a roof over your head can be mightily unhealthy as well.  

Town planners have been hit with two other lawsuits after approving a 28-unit condo development, which would have six affordable units, while a fourth lawsuit involving a permit for a five-bedroom home for veteransthankfully fizzled out in state court. Good grief! 

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

3. Bernie’s NIMBY Revolution 

As he crisscrosses the country on his quixotic presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders apparently can’t restrain himself from meddling in local politics, and not in a good way.  

In fact, Cambridge is now grappling with the fallout from the Democratic presidential primary candidate’s endorsement two years ago of a slate of City Council candidates highly skeptical about efforts to build new, market-rate housing. Four of them made it onto the nine-member council, where in September, they defeated a plan aimed at giving a big boost to the construction of affordable housing in Cambridge, where the median home price is well over a million dollars 

Bernie has pulled similar shenanigans out in the Bay Area, where he has endorsed various NIMBY candidates in a metro market with some of the world’s highest home prices and rents, Mother Jones has reported.  

Apparently, it’s not that Sanders hates housing, but rather the capitalists – i.e. developers – that build it. For that, Sanders gets deserves a full turkey, with all the fixings. 

Image courtesy of Elkus Manfredi

4. Forget the T and Just Drive 

That’s effectively the message Fort Point neighbors of Alexandria Properties proposed new, 300,000 square foot lab complex building at 99 A Street are sending.  

With the Red Line just a fourminute walk away, Alexandria had planned for 76 parking spaces – fairly reasonable when you are building a project near the city’s most reliable subway line, and not far from its largest commuter rail hub, South Station, as well. But neighbors threw a fit, demanding the developer dig deeper – literally and figuratively – and add more underground parking.  

The new lab building will have 176 parking spaces, all in order to assuage the neighbors’ parking anxieties, while likely adding more commuters to the neighborhood’s trafficclogged roads. 

Photo by Sam Doran | State House News Service

 5. Big Problems, Small Minds?  

Last, but not least, there’s House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker. Profiles in timidity at a time when Massachusetts faces both a transportation meltdown and a chronic housing crisis, the state’s two leading pols get to split a turkey this year.  

DeLeo warrants half a bird for his sitting on the governor’s Housing Choice bill, which would make a modest but badly needed change to state zoning rules to clear the way for badly needed new housing across the state. In particular, it would give towns and suburbs the option – no requirement here – to lower the threshold for approval of zoning changes involving new housing from the current standard, a nearly impossible two-thirds vote, to a simple majority. 

The bill has languished for more than a year in the House, which DeLeo rules like an autocrat, with no explanation, even as home prices and rents get crazier by the day.  

Baker gets the other half of the bird for his steadfast refusal to lead on transit improvements beyond his unworkable “managed lanes” and his narrow, $18 billion bonding bill which does little but pay for already-planned transit and transportation projects.  

Scott Van Voorhis

We’re staring down a transportation crisis, climate change and Big Dig No. 2 in the form of the Interstate 90 rebuild, and this is the best Gov. Fix-It can do? Maybe it’s time for a new repairman. 

 Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed. Hope you found this year’s selection of turkeys truly satisfying. And if you see a stray bird or two prowling around that deserves a good roast, don’t hesitate to drop me a line  I’m always up for a good turkey shoot! 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com. 

The Turkeys of Real Estate

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 5 min