Sticker shock: Boston Redevelopment Authority puts $47K price tag on records request

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By Jonathan Wells, executive producer, Fox 25 Investigative Unit, Dedham, Mass.

Our investigative unit at Fox 25 teamed up with reporters at CommonWealth Magazine to examine a government affordable housing program run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. After sifting through non-BRA public records in places like the city clerk’s office, the Registry of Deeds, and the City of Boston’s payroll, we learned that a seemingly disproportionate number of the deeply discounted housing units offered through the BRA’s Inclusionary Development Program (IDP) were being sold to city employees and their relatives. This was particularly striking because a central feature of the IDP was a lottery system to select potential buyers theoretically designed to give all eligible participants a fair shot at affordable home ownership.

With our findings in hand, we approached BRA officials and requested a look at their records, which presumably could provide a comprehensive picture of who was benefiting from this program. Our request was denied.

BRA Director John Palmieri did, however, grant an on-camera interview to Fox 25 investigative reporter Mike Beaudet. Toward the end, Beaudet asked Palmieri about getting access to the IDP records.

Beaudet: The head of the Fair Housing Commission says the public has a right to know. Will you let us look at your records?

Palmieri: Well listen, if the Fair Housing Commissioner is saying that, and she’s a very competent woman, we trust her judgment, I’d be prone to say let’s do that… I happen to think that more information is better – whenever you can release information, you ought to – and that transparency is something that we take very seriously.”

We followed up with Palmieri’s aides, who told us we could indeed have the records, but only after we gave the BRA a check for more than $47,000. That’s not a typo. $47,000.

We were told 422 housing units had been sold through the IDP and it would take a BRA employee four hours in “search and segregation” time to prepare the records for each housing unit. They indicated that the folder for each transaction was at least 1 inch thick, which would bring the cost to $112 per folder. Multiply that by 422 folders and you get $47,264.

Remember, the BRA director had told us earnestly that “transparency is something that we take very seriously.” Pardon us, but at that price, we think the director must have been joking, and the joke is on the public’s right to know.

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