Breaking the Bank: Boston Ranked Tenth Least Affordable City

In 2012, the city of Boston ranked as America’s tenth most expensive place to live, a statistic particularly salient to Boston College students living off campus and those hoping to work in the city after graduating.

Although high-cost cities tend to have higher median incomes, which means that those who live in more expensive cities are more likely to be able to afford it, this is not always the case. The median income in San Francisco, for example, is much higher than that in a place like Akron, Ohio. However, middle-class families live better off in cheaper areas like Akron than they do in San Francisco.

In fact, the most expensive US cities aren’t just unaffordable for the average middle-class family, but are also unaffordable to the well-off middle class by local standards.

The main shopping district of the South Bronx. Image via Futurebird/Wikimedia Commons

The main shopping district of the South Bronx.
Image via Futurebird/Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, affordability is effectively declining as home prices skyrocket at a much faster rate than median incomes. In the most expensive cities, the most affordable housing is located in areas that require the longest commutes. Some examples would be the areas of Bronx and parts of Nassau County on Long Island, where there is the bulk of the most affordable housing in the region.

In Boston, housing development has always been an ongoing debate. In recent months, Mayor Menino has proposed an ambitious goal of building 30,000 homes in the city by allowing taller structures with smaller units, selling public land to developers at a discount and using subsidies to spur development of more affordable housing.

Although many of the new units would be priced at market rates, Menino is proposing to increase subsidies and other assistance to make homes more affordable to middle-income households. About 30% of Boston’s households are classified as middle-income and the city’s housing costs are in fact rising much faster than incomes.

The report amounts to a last major effort by Mayor Menino to address a housing affordability issue that has been among the most vexing issues of his tenure. Although the city has significantly increased its supply of affordable units, housing prices in many neighborhoods have risen so fast that only affluent people can comfortably afford to buy homes.

Mayor Menino Image via Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons.

Mayor Menino
Image via Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons.

Boston presents a great paradox. In a way, it is a victim of its own success. More businesses and residents have moved downtown and to the outlying neighborhoods, therefore pushing the costs to skyrocket even higher. Between 2000 and 2010, Boston’s population increased from 589,141 to a whopping 617,594.

Such development does not only affect families but also singles, students and young professionals. Menino has proposed allowing smaller units to help these demographics, calling for private developers to contribute more money for affordable housing.

Unfortunately, building more housing for low-income residents will be especially difficult. The drastic federal government cuts on affordable housing have caused the city of Boston to lose nearly half of its funding for some programs over the past decade.

However, if Mayor Menino’s plans come to fruition there might be great progress in housing affordability in Boston especially for full-time students, which make up a large part of the Boston community.

Featured image via nietnagel/Flickr.