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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

When will we be able to afford Boston?

Ah, the rent crisis. Such an innocuous term for what amounts to a spiraling disaster of housing insecurity, poverty, homelessness and destitution. It’s happening all over the country but in some places more than others. Here in Boston, the problem is about as bad as it can possibly get; do a Google search on the highest rents in any of the past few years, and Boston is always there amongst the heavy hitters, usually just under New York City or San Francisco. 

I’ve heard it said, and I can personally attest, that the only two reasonably affordable areas to rent in and around Boston are Brighton and Watertown. East Boston can be as well, but it’s gentrifying fast. So is Southie. Every other town or neighborhood is quickly dropping out of the options for most of us. I used to live in the East Arlington neighborhood of Arlington, and I watched it go from working class to nearly elite in just a decade or so. 

Bostonians who rent are being priced out of their own metropolitan area. 

According to RentCafe, 65 percent of Bostonians live in a rented home [1]. Why does it seem like nothing is changing? I mean seriously, this is a crisis with a capital C. Boston is quickly turning from a blue-collar college town to an upper crust biochem and finance mecca with overpriced, faux-European coffeehouses and no soul. I know I sound like a pessimist, but don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing inherently bad about changing cities. Change is good. But students still have to live here, blue collar jobs still exist here and Boston still hasn’t properly dealt with its de facto segregation problem. 

There are reams and reams of people who should be able to live here but simply can’t anymore. That’s unacceptable. 

Let’s get back to students because if you haven’t felt the pain of our exorbitant rent already, you probably will once you move out of either your dorm or a family members house—no judgment by the way. I couldn’t afford this insane rental market until I was 24. 

Despite the fact that Boston is a college town, what students earn is frequently far outstripped by the prices of rent, utilities, food, transportation and more. I got very lucky with my current apartment—$2,600 per month for a three-bedroom in Brighton split between three people. I’m enrolled in SNAP benefits, but I’m still barely scraping by even with help from my parents, which I am very fortunate to have. Many students are in a much worse situation. 

UMass Boston doesn’t exactly help matters either. I get paid a pittance for writing two articles a week and editing others at The Mass Media. The Graduate Student Union and Faculty Student Union have been fighting back against the criminally low wages our graduate students earn for years now. The Dorchester Bay City development, which has been roundly applauded and shilled for by our administration, is going to further push up rent prices in this area. 

What is the endgame here? Are we willing to let Boston become a city of the elite and struggling, missing a middle class and refusing to aid the impoverished? Are we willing to continue abusing students in this way, sucking their money right out of their bank accounts, while they’re already burdened with heavy school loans that conservative judges have refused to allow forgiveness for? What is our vision for the future for Boston? Who are we as a city? 

This question really gets at the heart and soul of Boston, and I don’t understand why local and state governments are not absolutely falling over themselves trying to solve it. 

Now that’s not to say that absolutely nothing is being done. In recent years, both Somerville and Boston have implemented updated zoning ordinances, which get rid of overly restrictive off-street parking requirements that discourage the development of new housing [3,4]. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has spent millions of the Biden Administration’s COVID-19-era American Rescue Plan on affordable housing [5] and very recently announced plans for just over 800 units of affordable housing in Boston [6]. She has also talked about rent control measures [5]. Governor Maura Healey has revealed some rather vague pledges about housing affordability in her new budget plan [7]. 

Come on, think about the absolute scale and urgency of this problem, y’all! Well under $100 million of assistance money, 800 new units of affordable housing and some vague overtures just aren’t going to cut it. Plus, if those “affordable units” are anything like the “affordable units” proposed for Dorchester Bay City, then “affordable” they are not. We need real, systemic solutions, creativity and a sense of extreme urgency. 

I know I’m not alone in thinking like this. Yes, it has become a bit cliché to complain about rent in Boston, NYC, San Francisco and other expensive cities. But this isn’t me sticking my head out of the window, screaming, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” This is me sticking my head out of my window and shouting, “Help us, for the love of god! Help us!” 

[1]https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/ma/boston/#:~:text=177%2C371%20or%2065%25%20of%20the,35%25%20are%20owner%2Doccupied. 

[2]https://twitter.com/FSU_UMB/status/1494328745473110017 and https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eV8P_MDsoQJyKMhO6zDKGjKtFVHl_x1tmcNvI7xc20g/edit 

[3]https://mass.streetsblog.org/2019/12/16/somerville-council-dramatically-curtails-off-street-parking-requirements/ 

[4]https://www.bostonplans.org/news-calendar/news-updates/2021/12/22/mayor-wu-eliminates-parking-minimums-for-affordabl 

[5]https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2022/11/18/wu-announces-60-million-affordable-housing-program-previews-push-for-rent-stabilization 

[6]https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/boston-mayor-michelle-wu-to-announce-plan-on-affordable-housing/2975352/#:~:text=Boston’s%20Mayor%20Michelle%20Wu’s%20plan,a%20press%20conference%20Thursday%20morning. 

[7]https://www.mass.gov/news/governor-healey-and-lieutenant-governor-driscoll-file-fiscal-year-2024-budget-tax-relief-and-housing-bills 

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor