A pedestrian walks past a mural on Glenville Avenue in Brighton, MA during the heat wave on August 12, 2021.
Christiana Botic/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
Kate Mannelly, a teacher in Boston, wants to move to a one-bedroom apartment, if she can afford it.
Boston is on the verge of becoming the second-priciest city for renters after a 5% jump in January.
Mannelly fears surging rent will force her to either leave Boston or keep her from owning a home.
Kate Mannelly wants to keep teaching high-school students in Boston, but between soaring rent, stagnant wages, and pressure to build a nest egg, something has to give.
The Boston rental market is particularly hot right now. In fact, rents are climbing faster in Boston than in any other major US city. Rental costs in the city leaped 5% in January alone, according to the apartment platform Zumper. The breakneck rally lifted Boston’s median one-bedroom rent to $2,720, just a hair below San Francisco’s. In a matter of months, Boston could become the second-priciest city for US renters after New York.
The price surge has been fueled by some factors that are unique to Boston and some that are happening nationwide. The return to offices powered a quick rebound for rents as people flocked back to cities, particularly on the East Coast, where companies have generally been stricter in requiring in-person work.
In Boston, decades of gentrification have pushed affordable housing further inland and driven prices sharply higher in bayside neighborhoods. And the abundance of colleges in and around the city has also intensified competition, particularly with students returning to on-campus learning in the fall. While the economic turmoil of the pandemic brought a little relief, prices are already back up.
“I don’t want to have to hope for another pandemic next time I have to look for apartments,” Mannelly told Insider.
Some economists estimate the US is already past the peak of the pandemic rent boom, but they aren’t anticipating that prices will fall. Relief for renters is unlikely to arrive.
The tug-of-war between rent, work, and savings
For 29-year-old Mannelly, the historic rent growth presents an existential problem. Her job as a public-school teacher leaves her with little ability to negotiate higher pay. She’s also concerned that she’s only saved “a fraction” of what her friends in other cities have. While she loves her job and where she lives now, Mannelly fears she’s “setting myself up for failure.”
“I want to do this, but should I be doing this? I hate that I have to think about that, because I would hope I could work and live where I want to,” she told Insider.
Finding an affordable one-bedroom apartment is particular tricky. Boston’s median two-bedroom rent reached $3,150 in January, just $430 more than the city’s median one-bedroom rent. Splitting rent with a roommate allowed Mannelly to live in her neighborhood for years, but living alone represents a much heftier financial burden.
The market caters to couples who can divide one-bedroom rents, Mannelly said, but that means a swath of young professionals are being pushed out.
“What does that mean for the rest of us who aren’t splitting a bedroom with a partner who can pay half the rent? It feels like they completely neglect this other market, or force you to really have to downgrade,” she said.
Making the leap from renter to owner ‘feels so unattainable’
Mannelly has been renting apartments in the city since she started graduate school at Boston College in 2015. She paid roughly $800 a month by splitting a house in the Brighton neighborhood, before moving into a two-bedroom unit in the same area with her sister. Her rent jumped to $1,250, but it still felt like “a pretty good deal back in 2018.”
Mannelly is planning to live on her own, but like countless renters in today’s market, she’s stunned by how quickly rents have bounced back over the past year.
“I went to look at one-bedrooms around the Brighton area, which is known to be cheaper, and I almost had a heart attack,” she told Insider.
The cost of buying a home in the US has also soared throughout 2021 as a dire shortage of inventory crashed into historic demand. CoreLogic’s Home Price Index gained 18.5% year-over-year in December, marking the largest one-year jump since 1976.
Just thinking about the inevitable house hunt is dispiriting, Mannelly said.
“This might sound so depressing, but I truly cannot wrap my head around when I’ll ever be able to buy a home. It just feels so unattainable right now,” she said. “In some ways, I’m resigned to the possibility that I may have to rent forever if I choose to live here.”
Economy, Markets, Real Estate, Economy, Housing Market, Boston, Housing, US Housing Crisis, us housing market, Rent prices, rent inflation, Rent growth, Real Estate
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