GentriWatch: Can Families Afford to Live in Boston Anymore?

Plus, Emmanuel's new 19-story dorm and the consequences of condos.

Welcome to GentriWatch, where we look for signs of gentrification happening around the city.

“NO MORE THAN FOUR” is a Boston ordinance that prohibits five or more unrelated students from living in the same apartment. The rule, along with the city’s student population, is often only discussed in relation to the myriad health and safety violations endemic to the squalid flophouses of Allston and Mission Hill, home to many who live off-campus.

An excellent story in Governing magazine’s November issue details the plight of families amidst the housing crunches besetting cities across the country, with special attention paid to Boston and how its students factor in. (Spoiler: negatively!)

An adequate supply of large homes exists, but these homes are not housing families with children. Instead, because there’s a shortage of studio and one-bedroom apartments, groups of singles are pooling their resources and outbidding families for desirable larger units…Part of the pressure on the market in neighborhoods like Brighton stems from the large number of college students who attend nearby schools. A city ordinance prohibits five or more unrelated students from living together off campus, but while inspections are conducted periodically, the ordinance is difficult to enforce.

As noted in the story, the price of a three-decker in Boston has risen 83 percent since 2009. And though median listed rents in Boston are up 13.2 percent since 2010, incomes are lagging behind—increasing just 2.4 percent annually.

Further complicating things are the city’s seniors, who typically receive the best offers on their homes from investors who wish to carve them up into rentals for college students in search of off-campus housing.

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IN THAT CASE, Emmanuel College’s plans for a sleek, 19-story dormitory must be a good thing, right?

The school has submitted plans to the Boston Redevelopment Authority for the 691-bed Julie Hall, proposed for its Longwood Medical Campus and designed by Boston’s Elkus Manfredi. The new structure, consisting of a six-story wing on Brookline Avenue conjoined with a 19-story tower, would replace the 220-bed dorm next to Beth Israel, reports Universal Hub.

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BOSTON HAS BEEN NAMED the fifth-richest city in America by Bloomberg Business, with a gross metropolitan product (GMP) per resident of $74,746. San Jose took top honors ($105,482), followed by Bridgeport, Connecticut ($94,349), San Francisco ($80,643), and Seattle ($75,874). Boston jumped two spots since 2008 on the back of a surging biotech sector.

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SOMERVILLE WARD 6 alderman candidate Elizabeth Weinbloom, who made rising housing costs in Davis Square a focus of her campaign (thanks in no small part to a ukulele song), fell short on Election Night, losing to Progress Together for Somerville leader Lance Davis, 867-458.’s Adam Vaccaro caught up with Weinbloom ahead of the election and talked about the problems facing renters in Somerville, who comprise two-thirds of the city’s population. In stark contrast, nine of the 11 incumbent aldermen are homeowners or live in family homes. She says rising housing costs are everybody’s problem, homeowner and renter alike.

“Many homeowners I talk to, they too were renters for many years before they got their homes,” Weinbloom told Vaccaro. “They are very sympathetic to this issue…I have spoken to many renters and homeowners who say, ‘Oh, there used to be this lovely couple next door, but they got priced out.’”

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Photo by Kyle Clauss

Photo by Kyle Clauss

“I’M FOREVER CHARMED by it,” artist and folk musician Dan Blakeslee told Boston magazine, listing his favorite Somerville haunts in a booth at the back of Diesel Cafe.

Blakeslee—celebrating his 20th year touring with a gig at the Newport Folk Festival and a brand-new studio album, Owed to the Tanglin’ Wind—is like many artists living in Somerville: endlessly enamored with the city, but anxiously aware that his days there could be numbered. Amidst skyrocketing housing costs and luxury condos sprouting up all over New England’s most densely populated community, Blakeslee and other creative types may soon find themselves priced out of the place they love.

You can read more about the artists’ struggle, and discover Blakeslee’s secret to the universe, here.