Though positive in many respects, the population growth creates many challenges for city officials and residents alike: crowded schools, roads, and transit lines, and harder-to-find housing at moderate prices.
“It’s virtually impossible for someone of my income level to own or rent in the city,” said Quinton Kerns, a 27-year-old urban designer who pays $600 a month to share a Harvard Square apartment with five roommates. And with $150,000 in student loan debt, Kerns doesn’t see himself moving up in the housing market anytime soon.
“It’s frustrating — I can’t just go to the community of my choosing,” he said. “I’m at the mercy of what’s affordable to me.”
Even though Boston added more units of housing in the last decade than in the three previous decades combined, the pace of new development is not keeping up with all the people who want to live here. The Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University predicts that unless annual housing production in the Boston area doubles — from 6,000 units to 12,000 units a year — already sky-high prices will soar.
“The circumstances call for a very different approach to housing,” Dukakis center director Barry Bluestone said. “There’s much more demand for multifamily rentals and condos. We need to get communities to rezone to allow for that kind of housing.”
Average rents in Boston are about $1,700 a month. But much of the new housing built in the past few years are luxury residences that command monthly rent of $4,000 and more. Both the city and state have launched initiatives to build more moderate-priced housing; the Compact Neighborhoods program by the Patrick administration aims to spur construction of 10,000 multifamily housing units a year in Massachusetts, largely to retain young workers being priced out of the market.
Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration has begun encouraging developers in the South Boston Innovation District to build micro-housing units — tiny apartments with rents that people just starting out can afford.
Yet here too that goal is proving elusive. At Factory 63, a newly renovated building with units as small as 375-square-feet, so many people applied for its first group of apartments that a lottery was required to parcel them out. The prices ended up at $1,700 to $2,400 a month, a few hundred dollars higher than officials had initially hoped.
“Just because the units are smaller doesn’t mean you can build them cheaply,” said Kelly Saito, president of Portland, Ore.-based developer Gerding Edlen, which built Factory 63 on Melcher Street and is also constructing a 21-story housing tower on A Street.
Boston already has among the highest construction and land acquisition costs in the country, he said, while a building full of studio-sized apartments means many more expensive kitchen and bathroom fixtures than normal.
“I think the effort to produce lower cost housing can be achieved at least partially,” Saito said. “But it really depends on where the expectations lie.”
Meanwhile Boston is grappling with another by-product of its popularity: crowded classrooms. Enrollment in city schools next year is expected to be at its highest in a decade, with another 1,200 children entering the school system, mostly at the lower grades. The additional students will require a $61 million increase to the city’s school budget, according to a recent report to the school committee.
Boston officials are in the midst of changing the classroom assignment process to make it more predictable and to provide easier access to quality neighborhood schools.
One of the fastest changing neighborhoods is the Fenway area, where the population increased 15 percent from 2000 to 2010. For decades its main boulevard — Boylston Street — was a scrubby, traffic-choked row of gas stations and repair shops. But in just a few short years, several modern, sleek apartment and retail buildings have gone up, and the strip now boasts a sushi place, Southern barbecue restaurant, and popular nightspots that spill crowds well into the night.
Dave DuBois, chief executive of the Franklin Restaurant Group, said the neighborhood’s rapid growth has quickly produced a creative food scene that is entirely distinct from Fenway Park and nearby Lansdowne Street.
“Five years ago, if I opened a restaurant in the Fenway, people would say, ‘Oh, you doing beer and nachos? Wings?,’ ” said DuBois, whose company opened Citizen Public House, a fine whiskey bar on Boylston Street that serves a pork pate melt. “The neighborhood has the energy of people in motion. Top restaurateurs are taking a serious look at it.”Continued...