Ask anyone what they think of the myriad cranes dotting Boston’s skyline and some gripe about the lack of middle-market housing is sure to follow. And they wouldn’t be wrong: For the majority of the workforce, despite living in the middle of an unprecedented building boom, the struggle to find a desirable place to live for a price that doesn’t break the bank is a real one.
Massachusetts is erecting more housing now that it has in the past decade, largely focused on Boston and its immediate neighboring communities. But, as Stockton Williams, the of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, told The Boston Globe, “The modestly priced, decent, single-family home has largely disappeared.”
In its report published Monday, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council confirms this trend, saying local and state policymakers must green-light more middle-market housing to keep up with demand. But it shines the light on the other side of that coin, too: Across Greater Metro Boston, we’re seeing a decline in middle-income households and a simultaneous uptick in households at the ends of the income spectrum.
“Since 1990, the number of middle-income households in the region fell from 333,000 to 325,000,” the report concluded (see graph below). “The number of high-income working households grew by 151,000, or 33 percent. The number of low-income working households grew by approximately 89,000, or 40 percent, with almost half of that increase represented by the growth in extremely low-income working households.”
That translates to an eyebrow-raising statistic: “The share of middle-income households declined from 33 percent of all working households to 26 percent of working households.”
Several factors are reportedly at play here. Notably, as city and town voters resist density, homebuyers and renters bid up the prices of the existing housing stock, pushing many out. Furthermore, affordable rentals are harder to find than affordable units for sale, though many middle-income candidates aren’t ready to pay a down-payment in today’s market.
And while living close to the city’s core is appealing for college grads, young professionals and families – in part because more major companies are choosing to set up shop there – it’s becoming increasingly less realistic, financially: “Affordable units, both for rent and for sale, are more abundant in the gateway cities, such as Brockton, Lynn, and Lowell,” the report concluded. Thirty-six percent of middle-income households are considered “cost burdened,” defined as expending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. For renters in Boston and the Inner Ring (Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Malden, Everett, Revere, Chelsea, Winthrop, Quincy, Milton, Brookline, and Newton), it’s even more prevalent.
What does all this mean going forward?
Twenty-six percent of the nearly 500,000 new households expected by 2030 are anticipated to be middle-income. And whatever happens with the market, the existing housing stock won’t be enough to meet their demands.
“After accounting for housing likely to come back on the market,” the report concluded, “the region will need 200,000 additional units of housing by 2030 to accommodate new worker households and to prevent increases in housing cost burden for the region’s residents.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mis-stated the nature of MAPC’s report. It is a one-time study, not an annual report.