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Old 07-08-2013, 10:11 AM
4 posts, read 22,274 times
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Hi Everyone,

My husband and I are considering purchasing a home in Dorchester to start and raise a family. I have heard that Dorchester is gentrifying which makes buying there more appealing. Has anyone heard this? We are looking in the Ashmont area on the west side of Dot Ave. Is this specific area gentrifying? Is it relatively safe?

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Old 07-08-2013, 10:31 AM
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Have you gone to visit in person both in the daytime and at night? I used to work in Dorchester (Grove Hall) and have friends who live in Savin Hill. I also pass through Ashmont from time to time. I can tell you I've never visited a part of Dorchester that left me feeling like it was a place I would want to live or raise a family. But that's 100% personal opinion. Also keep in mind that there are no guarantees with gentrification anywhere, so I would recommend making sure you would feel comfortable raising a family in the neighborhood as it stands today.
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Old 07-08-2013, 10:50 AM
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I have driven around Dorchester a little but I haven't spent too much time exploring the area. I currently live Cambridge. What personally are your negatives in raising a family there? We are not originally from the Boston area and have only lived in Cambridge for 2 years but we don't want to leave the city to start a family however we want to do right by our family at the same time. Dorchester is the only affordable area for us to buy.
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Old 07-08-2013, 11:12 AM
Location: Everett, Massachusetts
315 posts, read 506,657 times
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Default Thoughts

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here because there has been rather extensive posting about the intricacies of Dorchester neighborhoods in other places on this board. Look in some of the other threads for some of the expertise shared by other posters, especially Goyguy, who really knows his stuff when it comes to Dorchester neighborhoods.

In any event, I wouldn't necessarily say that Dorchester is the only place you can afford that is "city". I moved out of South Boston after being priced out and bought north of the city. There are some areas here you might consider as alternatives to Dorchester which compare quite favorably with that neighborhood in several measures of quality of life - more easily navigable school systems, relative safety and even convenience. Some parts of Somerville are still somewhat affordable, but you could also consider Medford, Malden, Everett, or Revere. They're just as close to Boston as Dorchester is; in some cases, they're actually closer to downtown, but because of geographic barriers, local politics and trends in annexation in the 19th century, they didn't get swallowed up by Boston the way that Dorchester and other neighborhoods south of Downtown Boston did. I wrote a long post about living up this way in a recent thread entitled "North end of orange line" that has a lot of information about the cities I just mentioned. Check it out!
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Old 07-08-2013, 01:46 PM
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Hi. I have done some research on the forum and it seems like mixed thoughts on Dorchester in general but I didn't see anything regarding gentrification. Generally if an area is on the verge on gentrifying it makes sense to invest in real estate which is what we are trying to do for the short term. We have discussed settling in Dorchester, starting a family and once the kids are out of elementary school perhaps moving out of the city. Which leads me to another topic schools. Again seems like mixed reviews on Boston public schools. Private wouldn't be an option for us financially so it would need to be public all the way. Anymore thoughts for Dorchester residents?
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Old 07-08-2013, 02:07 PM
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Dorchester is a huge neighborhood, which is both good and bad. The good is that you can live in a very nice and relatively safe neighborhood, like Savin Hill (where my cousin has a house), or Lower Mill/Cedar Grove (near where my mom has a house in Milton). But the bad is that there are huge swaths of DOT that are hardly touched by gentrification, and outright dangerous. It's really a street by street situation in those areas, and I don't think you would be happy there.
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Old 07-08-2013, 03:07 PM
Location: Everett, Massachusetts
315 posts, read 506,657 times
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I found one of the recent posts to which I was referring in my previous response. Hope it is helpful. Look for this on Google, and it should come up:

"Safest Neighborhoods in Dorchester, MA?"

I lived in South Boston for many years and am pretty familiar with Dorchester. I did initially look for a house there myself, but I found that the gentrifying/already nice areas (Savin Hill, especially "Over the Bridge", Neponset, Adams Corner, etc) were already quite expensive. The affordable spots were almost exclusively in very dicey areas.

I would be very wary of hoping for a new wave of gentrification in the rougher parts of Dorchester anytime soon. Back in the '80s, there was some gentrification in the area off Adams Street to the northwest of Fields Corner (Ronan Park area - Ridgefield St, Westville St, Mount Ida Rd, etc...), but this area has never been able to shake its violent past and has slipped back to being a rather shady pocket of the neighborhood despite its many beautiful homes and sometimes spectacular views. The farther you go to the west of Dot Ave, the trickier and sketchier it is. Around Franklin Field and Bowdoin-Geneva, it can be downright dangerous. Definitely drive around and check out the different areas of Dorchester. It's a huge and very varied neighborhood with a lot to offer. It is also very complex and has a lot of different dynamics going on. I'm not sure it's the best bet for someone hoping to cash in on a wave of gentrification.

Again, if I were you, I'd check out some of the immediate cities to the north of Boston. They're just as close if not closer to Downtown Boston and are experiencing quite a lot of positive development, and there are still some good deals to be had. Malden in particular is in the process of sprucing up its downtown. There's a new flagship Walgreens coming in, an ethnic food court slated to open next year, a few new restaurants, including a Redbones, and a planned minor league baseball field. Access to Boston is quite good via the orange line, which has two stops in town, and the schools are definitely on the upswing. Nearby Somerville is seeing some dramatic improvements to its riverfront area by Assembly Square. The often forgotten East Somerville area is getting a facelift along Broadway. I think it's a better bet for you than Dorchester for convenience and safety. The schools aren't terrific, but I think they're better than dealing with the gamble of the Boston Public Schools' lottery system, which I know from friends' experiences can be very frustrating. If you're thinking longer term, buy a house in Melrose, which is a streetcar suburb with a very walkable downtown and easy access to Boston. Sure it's suburban in character, but it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

In short, familiarize yourself with a few different options and see what you're most comfortable with. I say this as a native of Greater Boston who has lived in a few different areas. When I was looking to buy after renting for about thirteen years in South Boston, I felt almost pressured by local real estate agents to look in Dorchester because it's the next neighborhood geographically, and historically, many people looking for a more affordable option with more space move in that direction. While the condos I saw there did offer more space than what I was finding in South Boston, the prices just didn't seem worth it for what you got. In the end, I ended up buying a single family house in Everett. It's nothing fancy, but it's quiet, and my street is loaded with families from across the globe. I can still be in the thick of Boston or Cambridge in ten-fifteen minutes by car or a little longer by T. What works for me may not work for you, but I thought I would share my experience.

Whatever you do, best of luck to you!
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Old 07-08-2013, 08:26 PM
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I grew up in the most southern part of South Boston, bordering North Dorchester. I had many Polish friends and Vietnamese relatives that lived in the "Polish Triangle" of Dorchester. I remember riding my bicycle alone over the bridge into Dorchester when I was ten-year-old little girl to visit and play with Dorchester friends, and I felt safe during the day. In fact, the little boy next door to my aunt ended up going to Boston Latin School with me, which is one of the best public schools in the entire country.

Anyway, that area is looking spiffier than when I was a child 20 years ago. It's about 70% white, and the rest is Asian and Hispanic. I use this visualization to study neighborhoods/census tracts. Mapping America ? Census Bureau 2005-9 American Community Survey - NYTimes.com

You can input a Boston address in the URL below and find your potential school list. Of course, it will change every two years to adjust to the quality of schools. But the BPS claims it will guarantee at least 2 top and 2 middle-level schools are always on the list, along with access to city-wide schools.
Interactive School Map: Exploring Boston School Choice
Overview of new school choice policies: Improving School Choice | Working with you to improve school choice and student assignment

Last edited by sharencare; 07-08-2013 at 09:37 PM..
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Old 07-08-2013, 10:34 PM
288 posts, read 488,771 times
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My husband and I are in the same boat as you, debating whether we should raise our family in Boston or leave for the suburbs. We're educated professionals with a high household income. But we don't want to live in a small home without a backyard, have a long or awkward commute with two cars, or be highly indebted and vulnerable. We also love the city and all the diversity and culture it has to offer. We have deep and loyal ties to Boston, and lots of our family and friends still live in the city itself.

We also went through Boston Public Schools and L.A. Unified, and we ended up just fine. He went to an Ivy League and I went to a highly ranked liberal arts college. I grew up very poor in Boston and had a lot going against me--being a poor minority, ESL, and having an uneducated, single (though extremely loving) mother struggling to raise me in the public projects. So the Boston Public School demographics don't faze me easily. I spent 8 years in Boston Public Schools, and I say though there was a bit of butt-kicking (high school was way harder academically than college or graduate school), I don't regret attending.

I sincerely have come to believe over time (with due credit to my mother), that Boston Public Schools gave me the opportunities no other public school system could have offered to a poor kid with big aspirations but no resources. Boston Public Schools, namely Boston Latin School, literally offered me a golden ticket out of poverty by making sure I got into a very good college. Within 10 short years, I went from the very bottom 10 percent of U.S. households to the very top 10 percent of U.S. households.

I'm not naive, and think BPS has no trouble spots. It does not help all children, especially at the high school levels. So you have to do your research carefully, and understand your comfort level and your willingness to commit a lot of time to your kid's education. Personally, I think with two college educated adults in the household (and a determined grandma), our kids will do just fine. We looked at some of the individual elementary schools in Boston, and have taken into account that BPS has a diverse student population (free lunch recipients, ESL, special ed, and other demographics). We also take MCAS scores into perspective. MCAS scores can be based on the test-taking habits of 22, um, third graders. One third grader having a bad test day can bring the school's third grade MCAS score down by 5%! So if you are really serious about staying in Boston, you should go to one of the fairs or open houses that BPS offers to see what the teachers and programs are like. Taking this all into consideration, we are still leaning toward staying in Boston.

It does sound like money is a little tighter for you, so if I were you, I would not treat any house purchase in Boston as an investment if your time frame is only five years. You don't want to be in the position of finding yourself underwater and not being able to move in five years. When children come in the picture, honestly, if you are not 100 percent sure about BPS, you really need a back up plan. Have some assets on hand in case you have to bail, or make sure you are in a rock solid neighborhood. If you are committed longer term, you might want to consider the Boston and Cambridge affordable home ownership programs. Good luck!

Last edited by sharencare; 07-08-2013 at 11:15 PM..
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Old 07-08-2013, 10:59 PM
Location: Cambridge, MA
4,730 posts, read 10,929,204 times
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I don't have much to add here. And since Prof Pablo has already steered readers to some "encyclopedias" I've posted before, I won't feel like I'm throwing my weight around by seconding that recommendation.

Echoing earlier posts in this thread - Dorchester can and often does change block by block. Even narrowing down to "Ashmont, west of Dot Ave" isn't specific enough. North of Talbot (the NW boundary of the Red Line terminal property, where Ashmont St heads east to the harbor) we're talking uniformly "iffy" if not sketchy. The side streets feeding in opposite the station have roller-coastered from declining to rebounding and back to declining. But the pocket beginning at Mercier Ave and extending south to Gallivan Blvd has kept its curb appeal and sense of being secure. Million$ have been poured into the redevelopment of the station area. A bank branch has opened, two restaurants with - shall we say - upscale pretenses are doing well, little cutesy niceties like reproduction acorn-fixtured lampposts and an old-fashioned clock have been installed...yet much of the area's "grit" is intact. Multiple bus routes serving the worst parts of the city converge at Ashmont, facilitating muggings (lately sometimes even of the bus drivers) as well as other minor and not-so-minor crimes. You do NOT want to be caught at Ashmont Station very late at night or around when schools let out. A foreboding, deserted vibe prevails after 9 PM or so and mayhem reigns when literally dozens of yellow buses discharge their passengers.

But this is part of the rhythm and nuance of many an urban community. After a quarter-century in the same neighborhood of Cambridge I've witnessed more than a few gentrification efforts that have still left untouched a lot of the "grit." I know which streets draw the mobile (that is to say, bike-riding) drug dealers after sundown, and which ones are the most popular for jumping people once the hours draw closer to midnight. One, however grudgingly, adjusts. The rewards of dwelling within a vibrant and diverse city neighborhood far, far outweigh the hassles. Of course this depends on the person. What's good for this goose may not be good for another gaggle.
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