Finding a place to live near Boston without breaking the bank has long been a challenge, but renters — and even home buyers — often found success by widening their search.
Strike out in Medford? Consider moving next door to Malden. Or head south to Quincy. Or maybe west, to Framingham or Natick.
But increasingly, experts say, even communities that used to be considered affordable are no longer viable options for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. Around the state, large swaths of people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“If you are a lower- or a lower middle-income family, it’s well-nigh impossible for you to find a home you can afford in Greater Boston,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
It’s a trend borne out by the numbers. Across the state, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data show about a quarter of all renters now spend half their income — or more — on housing. Rents have climbed with record-setting home values. The median home price in Massachusetts rose from $285,000 in 2011 to $510,000 in 2021, according to data shared with GBH News by The Warren Group.
"Communities that have been traditionally and historically more affordable and are largely communities of color, these are the communities where the pressures are even more significant right now."Rachel Heller, CEO of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association
And throughout the region, it’s not the wealthy suburbs that have seen some of the most dramatic gains in home values. It’s the communities that were once considered affordable.
East Boston, long a first stop for new immigrants, has become ground zero in the city’s red-hot real estate market. Between 2011 and 2021, Warren Group data show the cost of a single-family home shot up 226% — the sharpest hike of any Boston neighborhood.
That same data indicate home values have risen dramatically over the last decade in Roxbury and Mattapan, by 214% and 170%, respectively. Outside the city — in Everett, Revere, Brockton, Lynn and Lawrence — single-family home values increased by roughly 150%. In Worcester, over the last decade, the value of a single-family home rose 117%.
“Communities that have been traditionally and historically more affordable and are largely communities of color, these are the communities where the pressures are even more significant right now,” said Rachel Heller, CEO of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association.
Housing advocates point to the 1980s, when Massachusetts produced nearly twice the amount of housing it does now. To stabilize rent and home prices, they say the commonwealth needs to build nearly 200,000 units in the next eight years.
Solving the affordability crisis is complex, says Draisen, the MAPC executive director, but he boils it down to Economics 101: “The law of supply and demand applies to housing, just like it applies to gas or coffee,” he said. “And when you don’t have enough homes, rents and sales prices will increase exponentially.”
Frances Amador, a 38-year-old mother of two, is caught in that equation. During the pandemic, a developer purchased the East Boston building where she has lived most of her life. When her lease expires in September, she fears her $1,000-per-month rent will triple or even quadruple to match market rates.
“Will I be able to move to another place, and would I be able to afford a higher rent?” she asked. “Would I be able to put food on my table?”
GBH News will follow the story of Amador and others struggling to stay in their homes over the next several months in a new reporting initiative called “Priced Out: The Fight for Housing in Massachusetts.” The series will examine the impact of the high cost of housing on the larger economy and look at potential solutions to easing the housing crunch. Audiences will be invited to share their stories and questions about being “Priced Out.”