Boston’s Housing Blues, an Op-Ed piece

Like many people from Boston, Massachusetts, I was brought up as a quasi-first generation American, born to an Irish father and American mother.

 If you’re from Boston and were born before 2000, it will come as no surprise that, as the daughter of an Irish man, part of my childhood was spent living in South Boston.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, this area was filled with Irish owned shops and restaurants. You’d almost always hear an Irish accent no matter where you roamed the streets. Maybe it was just because I was there with my Irish father, but the South Boston of my childhood memory was an Irish hub, filled with generations of Irish families who settled in this once low-cost neighborhood.


Today when I walk through Southie (South Boston), there are still remnants of what was there two decades ago, but it is by no means the same place as it was when I was a child. Filling the streets are trendy stores and bars, coffee shops, young professionals and updated apartment buildings. Rent costs are soaring, with one bedroom apartments averaging at $2,600.


My father has been working in South Boston’s Real Estate industry since he arrived in the states. Once a co-owner of Seaport Realty Group, a well-known real estate agency in South Boston, and now a property-owner and landlord, I thought he would be a good person to describe to me the transformations he’s witnessed in his lifetime.

“I left Southie about 8 years ago. It wasn’t fun anymore, people got too materialistic for me, taxes got high. You could make a lot of money there but South Boston’s become a nightmare… it’s not worth the headache. Back when I owned most of my property there, nobody wanted to live in Southie because it wasn’t considered a nice place to live. Rent was cheap but it was still unattractive, you only found us Irish, lots of poor white folk and some black communities. It was very communal.”


In 2005, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Boston averaged at $1,400. Today, the average cost for the same space is $2,300. And while rent costs overall have begun to plateau throughout most of the city, rent in poorer neighborhoods like Dorchester and Roslindale are quickly increasing.

When you break down the cost of housing by neighborhood, the results are even more striking:

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Map Source: Metro USA

So… What happened?

In the Boston metropolitan area, almost half of all renters in 2016 were described as cost-burdened, which means they pay over 30 percent of household income for housing and utilities.

Like many US cities, Boston has seen a major increase in housing costs during the last decade. And, although this is troubling, it isn’t anything to be surprised by. What puzzled me, however, was how Boston has come to be listed as the 3rd most expensive city for housing in the country.

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Boston is home to some of the most famous universities in the world – think Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tufts – as well as several state-of-the-art medical and technological facilities. The city also houses a whopping total of 52 colleges and universities.

With this massive network of universities and industries, it is no wonder that Boston has  seen a 5.2% population growth since 2010 and has been listed in the top ten of cities with the highest start up growth in the US.

With all of this knowledge confined in such close proximity comes good jobs and wealth. But, even so, you would think in such an educated community there would be more discussion about creating feasible solutions for the negative impacts of innovation hubs on the working class. This isn’t the case.

We all know the signs of gentrification, where neighborhoods like Southie – once an Irish-American working-class center – start to appeal to young professionals and college graduates who seek out cheaper rent in a decent location. With the influx of this new demographic, businesses follow as do rent hikes, along with an updating of architecture, new development projects, and so on. Before people know it, rent is too expensive for most of the working class.

This is a perplexing topic. On the one hand, we have this extremely innovative city with a young and ambitious population working on ground breaking ideas. But, on the other, we’re pushing out and marginalizing those who created the character that we identify as “Bostonian”.

Where do we find a middle ground?

I’m not here to propose to you a solution to the global phenomenon of gentrification, I’m sure there are experts who have already done that. I’m simply asking how to foster urban growth that doesn’t occur at the expense of the poor, and that benefits rather than disadvantages the most vulnerable populations in our cities.

Article by Danya Kiernan

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