South Boston
Community Profile

Buyers are discovering the qualities of South Boston

By Kathleen Howley, Globe Correspondent, 1/31/1998

South Boston at a glance
Annexed to Boston: 1804.
Area: 3.75 square miles
Population: 31,300.
Tax rate: residential $13.47, commercial $38.45.
Median home price: $145,000.
Government: city council, mayor (Boston).
Services: Boston Edison, Boston Gas, city water and sewer.
Schools: four public elementary, one middle, one senior high; five Catholic elementary.
Libraries: two public libraries.
Public transportation: MBTA Red Line and buses.
Churches: Numerous, various denominations.
Recreational: L St. Bathhouse, Castle Island, Columbus Park, two miles of public waterfront, Little League, basketball leagues, South Boston Youth Hockey League, South Boston Pop Warner football league, Boys and Girls Club, South Boston Neighborhood House.
Joan Tenenbaum grew up in South Boston, but she spent most of her adult years living in Paris and New York City. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

In the mid-1980s, she and her husband, Irving, decided to move into the house she lived in when she was a girl. Before they left their home in Greenwich Village, friends warned them to be ready for a shock, she said.

"They said that everything would have changed. But, they didn't know South Boston. I told them that the two elderly ladies who lived next door won't have noticed that I had been gone," said Tenenbaum, a retired French teacher.

When she was young, she lived her entire life within a two-block radius of her home, said Tenenbaum. She went to mass at St. Augustine's, across the street, and she attended grades one through 12 at the parish school.In many ways, it was a typical South Boston experience, she said.

"I know families who have lived in the same house for five generations," said Tenenbaum, as she sat in the home her family has owned since the 1930s.

There's a unique feeling to "Southie," as residents call their neighborhood. Many people live within blocks of their extended families. If you didn't grow up here -- say, if you were born a few miles away in Dorchester -- you're considered an "outsider."

On warm days, it's common to see mothers pushing their babies in old-fashioned prams. Drivers stop if they see an elderly person step off the curb. And, parking is elevated to an art form. Often, there are rows of double- or even triple-parked cars lining Broadway, the main thoroughfare.

The neighborhood is overwhelmingly Irish Catholic -- although residents are quick to point out that there are Italian, Polish, and Lithuanian families who have lived in Southie for generations. And, in last few years, there's a growing number of Asian immigrants who have settled in South Boston. But, so far, there are no more than a handful of African Americans.

Southie is geographically isolated from the rest of the Boston — with the harbor to the east and south, and a buffer zone of warehouses and railroad tracks to the north and west. The city's financial district is less than two miles away. But, you have to cross two bridges to get there.

Boston's booming real estate market is bringing new blood to the neighborhood, brokers say. In the mid-1990s, buyers who were priced out of the South End and Back Bay markets began looking at South Boston, said Jackie Rooney, owner of Rooney Real Estate.

"We've had a lot of young professionals moving into the area. They find they can get more for their money," he said.

Over the last year, the number of sales in South Boston increased by over 44 percent, the highest jump in Boston, according to Banker & Tradesman. And, median home sale prices rose by 30 percent between 1992 and 1996.

Rooney predicted that real estate on the East Side of South Boston, located nearest to the ocean, will appreciate by another 10 percent or more this year.

"My office had 10 sales pending in January, when I'd be happy with three or four. It's scary to think what could happen in the spring market if interest rates stay where they are or go lower," said Rooney.

That's good news for South Boston property owners, but it's bad news for young people who are being priced out of their own neighborhood, said Susan Smith, co-owner of Coyne Real Estate.

Recently, she showed a house to a young couple who grew up in Southie. They immediately made an offer on the property — a single-family on the East Side, priced at $154,000. The house spent less than a day on the market, Smith said.

"The first-time buyers who grew up here are looking in the $150,000 price range, and it's very uncommon to find something they can afford on the East Side of town. When houses like that do come on the market, they go fast," she said. Now, most East Side single-family properties are starting in the $200,000s, said Smith.

That means that there has been a growing interest in the West Side, an area that many South Boston natives tend to view as being less desirable.

Recently, her office sold 22 units ranging from $154,000 to $166,000 in a new development of townhouses on Southie's West Side, she said.

"We sold out in one month. It shows that the market, even on the West Side, is hot," said Smith.

The West Side is the area that is closest to the Seaport District, as the city calls the area of warehouses and empty lots where it plans to build a convention center and other projects. That means that real estate values will continue to increase, said Smith.

"There's no place for the market to go but up, especially on the West Side. We're seeing a lot of renovations and a lot of young families buying houses there," Smith said.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 1/31/1998.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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