It’s not hard to find people who want to live and work in Massachusetts. Social media sites are filled with threads from people who are excited about job opportunities, schools and health care in the state. The problem, some people say, is affording to live here.

The average fair market rent in Massachusetts is nearly 50% higher than the national average — costing $1,608 for a one-bedroom and $1,975 for a two-bedroom in the Bay State, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2022 Out of Reach Report. And in cities like Boston, rents are considerably higher. Some residents have even found themselves in bidding wars over apartments in the city.

Boston just took the number six spot on Redfin’s list of cities people are leaving due to a lack of affordability (the usual suspects make up the top of that list: San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York). It’s another warning shot that the high cost of housing could hurt the long-term economic competitiveness of Massachusetts.

Fernanda Meier, a freelance digital strategist, wanted to move to Massachusetts for work opportunities and was so eager to relocate she spent a year hunting for an apartment in the Springfield area.

Fernanda Meier
New Orleans resident Fernanda Meier.
Photo courtesy of Fernanda Meier N/A

Meier lived in Texas, where the fair market rent for a one-bedroom is $977 and a two-bedroom is $1,172, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She described her futile quest for an apartment under $1,500 a month as a “Pandora’s box of are you kidding me?”

“I absolutely adore Massachusetts, but it is just not financially feasible,” said Meier, 42. “Not unless I want to have like four or five roommates and pretend like I’m in a college dorm again.”

Last September, 28-year-old Ryan Keilman received a job offer as a paralegal in Boston, but he would have had to relocate within a few weeks. He said he was “stoked” to move from western New York to one of his favorite cities. As he browsed apartment listings, he added up the hefty upfront costs he could face: first month’s rent, last month’s rent, a security deposit and a broker’s fee.

Ryan Keilman
Washington D.C. resident Ryan Keilman. Photo courtesy of Ryan Keilman
Photo courtesy of Ryan Keilman N/A

Keilman shared his experience on Reddit: “I had to turn down a job in Boston last year because I would have had to come up with $5000 out of pocket just to sign the lease when my base salary was less than $30k. Ended up getting a job in DC and moved in for $800. I was really bummed too, I love Boston.”

He said he would have been able to afford the monthly rent and bills in Boston, but “there was no way” to manage the fees all at once.

Somerville resident Beth Nelson, 34, is a manager at a local dog-walking company. She shared on Reddit that she’s moving out of state after living seven years in Boston. She used to work a higher-paying corporate job, but was unhappy, and transitioned to a role at the dog-walking company.

“I don’t have enough money to enjoy doing anything. … This isn’t really the life I want to be living. I’m spending an arm and a leg to live in a city that I can’t really afford to enjoy,” Nelson told GBH News.

Nelson, Keilman and Meier are hardly alone in feeling like they can’t afford Massachusetts. Employers are also feeling the pinch of housing costs as they struggle to find and keep high-performing employees.

“We have heard from some employers who have cited specifically housing as a barrier they have in attracting talent,” said Lauren Jones, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.

A May report from the Roundtable, an organization of CEOs and top executives employing 250,000 people in the state, found that having greater access to housing for lower-income workers is one of the top factors that could help attract more talent. Members said the biggest opportunities for competitiveness in Massachusetts boil down to quality-of-life issues, like housing.

Andrew Metcalf, who runs a family-owned debt-collection business in Avon, said he nearly lost his best employee two months ago. The employee’s rent on his Quincy apartment went up, and the employee made plans to move nearly 80 miles north to less-expensive Concord, New Hampshire.

“My heart sank initially, but then my entrepreneurial mind went to work saying, 'let’s solve this problem,'” Metcalf said.

Metcalf said he worked out a hybrid work schedule with his employee, who now comes into the office one day a week and otherwise works remotely from his new condo in New Hampshire. “That was the only way to kind of make it all work for me not to let an employee go,” said Metcalf.

"Making Massachusetts an attractive place to move to and stay is going to be a critical story for our long-term economic growth."
Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute

Massachusetts’ population grew by just over 7% between 2010 and 2020, according to the United States Census Bureau. However, the bureau also estimates that from April 2020 to July 2021, the state lost about 45,000 residents — a 0.6% population decrease — and that Boston lost about 21,000 people — a 3.2% decrease.

“One of the factors that we think influence[s] why we see so much churn with people leaving the state for other states is, in part, housing costs,” said Mark Melnik, the director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute.

Melnik said there’s cause for concern because Baby Boomers are retiring and there are fewer people in the labor pool to fill those gaps. If housing costs are too high, he said, Massachusetts becomes a less attractive place to live and work for those younger employees in comparison to more affordable states.

“Making Massachusetts an attractive place to move to and stay is going to be a critical story for our long-term economic growth, because regions all throughout the United States are going to need to compete for resident labor,” Melnik said.

While Massachusetts employers and officials work on potential solutions, it’s too late for workers who have already made up their minds to move elsewhere - and they don’t regret it.

Beth Nelson is moving home to Woodstock, New Hampshire, picking up new clients for her dog-walking business and living with her parents to save up some money.

Kielman accepted a job in Washington, D.C. that offered a sign-on bonus making it easier to afford to move. He’s now in a studio apartment with utilities included for about $1,400.

As for Meier, she left Texas and is now living in what she describes as a “beautiful” duplex in New Orleans with two bedrooms, a spacious backyard and driveway. She still travels to Massachusetts for work every two to three months.

By Massachusetts standards, her rent in New Orleans is a steal: $1,100 a month. “I’m never leaving,” Meier said.

GBH News intern Josie Rozzelle contributed.