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Buyers in middle squeezed out

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 24, 2013 09:11 AM

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The mayoral race in Boston is casting a spotlight on a troubling trend.

Mayoral contenders John Connolly and Marty Walsh are very different men, but both are tripping over each other with plans to spur the construction of more housing affordable to Boston's dwindling middle class.

After all, as anyone who has recently taken a stroll through the Back Bay with its glittering new condo towers, the Hub is fast becoming a city for the very rich and the very poor.

But it's also a trend that arguably is starting to take hold in Boston's suburbs as well, especially inside 128, with middle class families pushed into the outer suburbs - or out of the state altogether.

Here's Bynxers, one of the sharpest observers on the comment board on this blog, responding to my recent post about how rising prices across the Boston area are once again killing housing affordability.

I've been saying it now for almost a decade. Boston has been becoming a city of rich and poor, only, for some time. That is now bleeding out into the suburbs, as well.

Pockets of affordability remain but I foresee mega-commuting becoming common once again. I went to the doctors a couple of weeks ago and the nurse who tended to me lives in Kittery....

Here are some other insightful comments on the subject from some equally sharp observers. If there is any consensus, it's that a good part of this problem may be self inflicted, with archaic and selfish zoning rules making it hard if not impossible for developers to build enough housing to keep up with demand and avoid the inevitable price spikes.

Writes James in Cambridge:

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the places where people can afford to live are the same places developers can build more units.

Look, the way the laws are written in the Boston area, there's a finite supply of housing. But the number of high-paying jobs is growing. And the housing is going to go to the people with the high paying jobs. This doesn't just mean "W" towns. I know some well paid engineers who are happy living in parts of Dorchester, and are encouraging their friends to move there, too. And with the finite supply, this pushes middle income folks out of the city.

A handful of "affordable" units here and there won't fix this. We need a lot more housing, period. High income people are going to live where they want to live. If we don't have enough space for everyone, it's the middle income (and lower income non-subsidized) folks who are going to get squeezed out.

And Dm84 argues that Boston area housing prices aer increasingly out of whack with what most middle class buyers are making.

There are not enough "high paying jobs" in the Boston area to support the rents and house prices we see. The median income for a family in Boston is $61,000/year with 21% of the population below the poverty line. When we hear anecdotes of "well paid engineers" we have to remember that for every family with a "well paid engineer" there's 10 other families who are coping with much much less. We often lose sight of that because those generally aren't the people that someone living in a W town or Cambridge would interact with on a regular basis, if at all.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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