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Making $200,000 and still middle class in Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 22, 2013 05:56 AM

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OK, hoot and holler at the idea that someone can make $200,000 and still be in the middle class, but consider the numbers. The cost of housing is crazy in the Boston area - so crazy that you can make what anywhere else would be considered a decent living and find yourself on the outside looking in when it comes to buying a home.

In the rest of the country, making between $33,000 and $100,000 a year puts you in the middle class.

But as this New York Times piece notes about Manhattan, once you take into account the high cost of housing, those numbers start moving up pretty rapidly.

Given the crazy real estate prices on the island, you'll need to be pulling down between $80,000 and $235,000 make it into the middle class in New York's richest borough.

In fact, a family of four making $68,700 actually qualifies for public housing, according to the Times.

While Boston is not New York, we are seeing a similar trend in the relentless, decade-after-decade escalation in real estate values.

You'll need individual income of $108,000 just to afford a $270,000 house - the median price for Massachusetts.

And that's just for starters.

Certainly, parts of downtown Boston, with their shiny new luxury condo towers, are like a mini-Manhattan, while in our tonier suburbs, a house selling for a million dollars is no biggie anymore.

If you want to buy an actual house in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill or some other downtown neighborhood, you had better be ready to fork over north of $2 million. The median condo prices for downtown Boston is nothing to sneeze at either, weighing in at $574,200, according to The Warren Group.

The median home price in Belmont tops $690,000, Brookline weigh in with a hefty $1.1 million and Cambridge at $807,000. Even buying in Brighton would be a stretch for many middle-income families - the median in that Boston neighborhood is now $430,000, the Boston-based real estate publisher and data firm reports.

So what's middle class in Boston and what can middle class buyers reasonably afford?

Instead of looking at prices in individual towns, let's look at counties.

You need to be pulling down $156,000 to afford the median price in the western suburbs of Middlesex Country ($392,000), $144,000 to buy a median price home in southern suburbs of Norfolk County ($360,000), and $126,000 if you are housing hunting in the northern suburbs of Essex County ($315,000).

But of course, many individual towns have much higher medians - $500,000 and up is not particularly unusual.

So you will need to bring in a hefty $200,000 a year to afford the median-priced home in Andover and Arlington, two nice but hardly ostentatious towns.

So does $200,000 still put you in the middle class in Greater Boston? What's your take?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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