Young Families Face Steeper Slope in Finding Apartments

Young Families Face Steeper Slope in Finding Apartments
Kara Olivere said she faced discrimination because she had a young child when she was looking to rent an apartment. Olivere, shown here with her 22-month-old son, Elliot, found one in East Arlington. Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff

It’s hard enough raising a child as it is. Throw in the stress of finding a new home and things get a whole lot dicier. Especially when landlords and real estate agents are reluctant to show apartments to applicants with young children.

If you’re one of the many individuals using Guaranteed Mass Real Estate License to obtain your credentials, then please don’t be like the agents mentioned in this article.

For Kara Olivere, a special education teacher in Arlington, MA and the single mother of a 1 year-old, finding an apartment has been nothing short of a nightmare.

In a Boston real estate market that’s already been described as ‘broken’, finding an affordable place is hard enough. In the time that Olivere has been a mother, she’s faced more difficulty than she did when she was renting with roommates.

“It’s not that it was easy,’’ she said, “but the realtors were eager to work with you — you’d practically have to beat them off with a stick.’’ Renting with a kid, meanwhile, was a nonstarter. “My profession, income, credit, and savings are all better than they’ve ever been in the past,’’ she said, “but I couldn’t even get called back, much less see a place.’’

Olivere spent more than a year looking for a place. She quickly discovered that any mention of her child was met with radio silence.

When I first started looking, I was very upfront about having a toddler,’’ Olivere said. After a while, she stopped mentioning her son, and voila, she got appointments to tour apartments. The agents would be friendly at the showing, she said, “but once I mentioned I had a child, their attitude would drastically change.’’

At an apartment showing in the beautiful Somerville area, Olivere noted to the agent that apartment was dilapidated and unsafe for her son.

The agent replied angrily by saying, “You never told me you had a son,’’ then doubling on that by saying that no nearby apartments had been deleaded either. When Olivere Olivere asked the agent for tips on finding and renting a place as a parent with a young child, he responded, ‘People with kids just buy.’

Well, if you read my most recent slew of articles then you know full well what it’s like for buyers in the Boston area — a costly hell. For a single mother of a toddler, that hell only worsens.

Currently, Massachusetts Law leaves nothing to the imagination: It’s illegal not to rent to families with children or to offer them different rental terms — such as requiring them to live in a first-floor unit or charging them a security deposit when other tenants don’t pay one, said Jamie Langowski, assistant director of the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School. This program is one of the leading advocates for house hunters facing discrimination in the Greater Boston Area — offering a test to deliberate on cases of housing bias. According to Langowski, Olivere’s experience isn’t unique.

“There is rampant illegal discrimination occurring,’’ she said.

Her organization’s test is simple: compare the experiences of two similarly qualified individuals — one of whom diverges from the other in terms of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or familial status.

“What we’ve found is that discrimination against families with children is common,’’ Langowski said, and prospective tenants are often told right to their faces that an apartment isn’t available to them because of their kids or the presence of lead paint.

While there are other factors that discourage renters and agents from showing apartments to families with young kids, the greatest deterrent by far is the presence of lead-based paint. In the case of apartments that haven’t been deleaded, landlords are forced to pay for costly lead abatements — usually ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the size of the apartment.

Currently, Massachusetts law stipulates that landlords must make a unit and any common areas lead-safe for a child under the age of 6. They are also required to pay for alternative housing while the work is being done.

And that’s a task many Boston renters just aren’t up to.

The result of their unwillingness is clear: studies have shown that low-income and minority children are at much greater risk of lead poisoning, partly because they’re more likely to be living in older and rundown housing.

Olivere was fortunate enough to stay with her family while continuing her search, but many families aren’t so privileged.

Langowski said renters who experience discrimination should immediately report their experience to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the MA Commission Against Discrimination, local fair-housing organizations, or a testing program like the one she works for.

“Families who have been discriminated against because they have children may be entitled to damages,’’ she said. Last year, the Suffolk program won a settlement of more than $22,000 for renters wrongly evicted after one family member got pregnant.

Al Norton, a realtor for a prominent real estate firm in Boston, urges house hunters to enlist the services of an ethical real estate agent. The key, he says, is finding an agent who knows the law and will advocate for you no matter the situation. Often times, Norton says, a simple email confirming that the renter is refusing someone a showing based on their having kids is often enough to get their foot in the door. It doesn’t ensure they’ll get the apartment but at least they’ll get a call back.

As for Olivere, she was able to find an apartment in East Arlington via a local Facebook group. The landlords, a young couple who live on the floor above her, said they had deleaded the entire property for their own piece of mind. Talk about lucking out.

“I’ve never heard of this in my nine months looking,’’ Olivere said. “I am so grateful.’’

Best Boston Neighborhoods for Young Families

Are you a young family on the prowl for your first home? Well first of all congratulations. That’s a big deal. And if you’re reading this, chances are you’re doing your searching in and around Boston, Massachusetts. For that, I do apologize — seeing as how Boston continues to rank as one of the most expensive cities in America.

But there’s another ranking that might be a bit more appealing to you: Boston consistently ranks as one of the top ten cities in the United States to raise a family. So which neighborhoods stack up in that regard? And what should you be looking for as you weigh your housing options?

When looking for the right neighborhood there are a number of factors to consider.

Public schools

One thing’s for sure. Young families need to think about their children’s futures. A big part of that is the public school system. So when looking for your first house, it’s vital that you consider the state of public schools in the area.

Just outside Boston, in the city of Newton, Massachusetts, lies the West Newton neighborhood — in which reside 13,545 Massachusettans. According to Niche.com, West Newton ranks highest among all Boston-area neighborhoods for public schooling. For the youngins, that includes A.E. Angier Elementary and Cabot Elementary. For the young adults, Newton North High School ranks among the highest public schools in the region.

Downside about West Newton is that it’s not very affordable. The median home value stands at a hefty $701,758. Compare that to the National average of $178,600.

  • Runner-Up Neighborhood for Best Schooling: Oak Hill

Crime rates

What family, young or old, doesn’t want to feel safe in their own home? It may be a luxury of the middle and upper classes, who notoriously reside in areas with less crime than urban populations. Nonetheless, crime rates remain an important factor when considering what neighborhood to settle in.

The Sudbury suburb of Boston boasts one of the best grades for crime rate on Niche.com. Coming in with an A-grade for crime and safety, it’s easy to see why some 18,397 people call Sudbury home. This grade is divided into two categories: violent crime and property crime. For violent crimes, the national averages for assault and robbery are 273 and 133, respectively. In Sudbury, the average for assault is 10; for robbery, 0. For property-related crimes, the national average stands at 2,051 thefts a year. In Sudbury the number is 236.

So if you’re looking for that safe, secure suburban feel you’ll find it in Sudbury. Just make sure you’ve got a household income of around $165,745. The median home value in Sudbury? $640,700. But surprisingly rent is a bit more affordable at $569 — although that number is a little skewed because 94% of the residents in Sudbury are homeowners, not tenants. 

  • Runner-Up Neighborhood for Best Crime and Safety: Lexington

Cost of living

This is probably the biggest factor for most prospective home buyers. Young families, especially, are avoiding home owning more and more as combinations of a tight job market, student debt, and other factors push them toward renting. Nonetheless, homebuyers are out there — even with the National market still in recovery mode from the 2008 bubble collapse.

Well as we’ve already mentioned, Boston consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities to live in in America. So if you’re looking for actual affordability you might want to move to Iowa. But for those hard-headed homebuyers out there, the top choice in affordability is, again, Sudbury.

Other options include Ayer and Devens. Both of these small suburbs have relatively low median home values compared to other parts of Boston.

Final advice for young families

Rent. Save. Rent. Save. Rent. And save.

 

 

Addressing Boston’s Income Inequality

Boston is in the middle of a huge real estate boom right now. If you haven’t already, check out our main page for information on acquiring a real estate license. It’s about time you took the next step in furthering your career in realty, don’t you think? But even as the market heats up, a major problem continues to plague the city: income inequality. And we need to talk about it.

The hard truth about Boston’s income inequality

As I mentioned in my last article, Boston ranks number 1 in America for city income equality. Just to reiterate:

In 2014, households earning near the top of Boston’s income distribution made made $266,224. Conversely, households at the bottom of that distribution earned just $14,942.

Now, granted, Boston hosts one of the largest student populations of any city in the country. This is bound to impact the numbers. But the fact remains, that in Boston the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Studying the divide

Last year, the Brookings Institution released a study that showed these dramatic findings.

According to the study, Boston’s “95/20’’ ratio was 17.8 in 2014. In other words, an individual at the 95th percentile, bringing in $266,224 a year, earned nearly 18 times more than a person at the 20th percentile — earning $14,925.

One major effect of this inequality is a narrowing of the city’s tax base — which weakens the ability of the Bay State government to address low-income needs. On top of that, the price of goods and services for poor households inevitably rises.

So where does real estate factor in?

Another major impact of income inequality is a lack of affordable housing. As we’ve seen with the Millennium Tower, Boston real estate has a sharp focus on luxury condos, houses, and apartments for the city’s top earners. Meanwhile the city’s impoverished are being left in the dust.

Well, okay, not completely.

Committing to a better future

Thanks in large part to the city’s building boom, Boston permitted more units of affordable housing in 2015 than any other year on record, according to city Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

In 2015, the city issued building permits for 1,022 apartments and condos with rents deemed affordable to middle- and lower-income residents. In 20 years of record-keeping, this is the largest issuance to date. On top of that, the city approved another 1,443 units but have yet to receive issue building permits.

“We are committed to creating a Boston that anyone, at any income level, can afford to live in,” Walsh said in a statement.

More than half of the new apartments arose from a city policy that requires developers of new buildings to either include affordable units in their projects or fund them elsewhere in the city. That program — which the Walsh Administration revamped in December 2015 — has played a huge role in the surge in construction.

On top of that, the city collected $23 million in funds to subsidize lower-income apartments.

Clearly, Mayor Walsh and his team remain committed to tackling the problem of income inequality in the city. According to a statement released in 2016, they want to add 53,000 units citywide by 2030. If they can maintain their current pace of production, Boston will eventually hit its target of 6,500 new affordable units.

Still more work to do

But, even with the Mayor’s efforts, the situation remains far from solved. Some say it’s getting worse.

“While some are doing very well, there are still too many who are not,” said Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

Take a look below at this map created by geographic information systems provider Esri. Each blue dot represents two households with an annual income greater than $200,000, while each yellow dot represents two households with an annual income less than $25,000.

Boston faces a steep climb towards closing the gap in household incomes. Currently the city ranks first in worst income inequality.

Peeling back the layers

Even with seeming improvements in affordable housing, further examination demonstrates some deep-seated problems. For one, unemployment rates are substantially higher for black and Latino workers and for those with disabilities.

“If you look at the people in the bottom half, especially the people in the lowest fifth, you really see that they haven’t recovered much at all,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the council, a regional planning organization that represents 101 cities and towns in the eastern part of the state.

According to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council report, the median income for black and Latino households is less than half the median income for white and Asian households. And while median incomes remained steady for white, Asian, and Latino households from five years ago, the median income declined for black households, from $45,800 to $43,600.

Moreover, the report showed that minorities, even wealthy ones, have a much harder time getting approved for mortgages than white people. An increasing share of older adults are continuing to work past age 65 and spend more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live.

“This housing cost burden issue is not only a huge social issue, it’s also a big problem for our economy,” said Draisen.

Moving forward, activists continue to try to shrink the gap in income equality. Critical to that, they say, is a 2018 ballot measure that would impose an additional tax on income over $1 million.

Millennium Tower, Boston’s Tallest Residential Building Keeps Getting Taller

With rental season in full swing, Boston finds itself in the midst of one of the city’s largest series of developments. Among these is the Millennium Tower, a sharp, shiny glass-covered monolith rising over Downtown Crossing. Considered one of the most opulent developments in city history, the Tower boasts some of the nicest digs you’ll see in the Bay State real estate market.

Filling Filene’s Hole

In 2006, Filene’s Department Store in Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA closed for good. After the company was consolidated into Macy’s, the flagship building went up for sale. Enter Vornado Realty Trust of New York. Vornado, in partnership with Gale International, bought the building and embarked upon a massive $700 million redevelopment of the Filene’s site. The redeveloped building would consist of a 39-story tower including a 280-room hotel, a 125-seat restaurant, 475,000 square feet of office space, 166 residential condos, 300,000 square feet of retail space, and an adjacent park. But then the money ran out, leaving a huge hole where Filene’s once stood.

Breaking New Ground on Millennium Tower

In 2012, Millenium Partners took over as head developers, earning city approval for 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential space. Finally on September 17, 2013, the building officially broke ground. Seven months later, on April 26, 2014, 600 trucks convened at the Downtown Crossing site to pour 6,000 cubic yards of concrete, making it the largest pour in Boston’s history. Under the guidance of Ben Middleton of Handel Architects, construction commenced on what would be the tallest residential building in the city of Boston. As of October 2016, 97% of the building has been accounted for, either sold or under agreement.

Neighborhood in the Clouds

The city's first neighborhood in the clouds.
You might as well call it Cloud City. I hear Lando Calrissian bought a penthouse suite.

As has been noted, Millennium Tower, standing at some 690 feet (give or take) and 60 stories, is the tallest residential building in downtown Boston. Furthermore, this shimmering glass spire is home to 422 luxury condos — now owned by local residents and buyers from Asia and Europe. These condos boast unmatched views unlike any other private residence in Boston. The complex’s website calls it ‘the city’s first neighborhood in the clouds.’

Millennium Tower - One of the many fairytale views from this modern day palace in the sky.

And for good reason. Have a look for yourself. Among the building’s major amenities you’ll find customized kitchen and bathrooms courtesy of luxury designer Christopher Peacock. He will literally be working with individual residents to design the condo of their dreams. Also included in the build is the Tower’s own luxury clubhouse — called The Club. This resident’s paradise spans 23,000 square feet, rises two floors, and includes a screening room, a parlor with pool table and comfy lounge chairs, a library, pool, spa, bar, and salon. It’s a veritable xanadu — complete with everything you might need to survive a nuclear winter in serious style.

Oh. And did I mention the Tower also boasts a residential dining room manned by chef Michael Mina? Or that residents will also have access to the city’s largest residential-only fitness center? Why do you think people keep calling Millennium Tower the most anticipated residential development in Boston city history?

A City Divided

All in all, Millennium Tower will irrevocably transform Downtown Crossing into an epicenter of luxury and commerce. Not to mention, it has already spawned some of the priciest home deals the city has ever seen — such as the Grand Penthouse which sold for a ridiculous $35 Million in February 2016. Meanwhile, Boston ranks number 1 in America for city income equality.

In 2014, households earning near the top of Boston’s income distribution made made $266,224. Conversely, households at the bottom of that distribution earned just $14,942. Granted, Boston hosts one of the largest student populations in America. But nonetheless, as with many other parts of the world, the rich keep getting richer while the poor get poorer in Boston. Hence the beautiful monstrosity that is Millennium Tower.

 

 

Buying vs. Renting in Boston

With Spring in full swing, the real estate market is getting especially busy — as it tends to do this time of year. With that, it’s time to ask the age-old question: are you better off renting or buying/owning in the Boston area?

Around March through June, demand tends to shoot up as leases end and prospective home owners and renters seek new digs. Fortunately for those people, Boston is in the middle of a major building boom right now. Nonetheless renting ain’t easy in Beantown. As we speak, major projects such as that at 35 Lomasney Way, Washington Village, South Station tower, and Bulfinch Crossing are getting underway or are expected to pick up their construction pace toward scheduled openings in 2018 or shortly after. All these developments will make for a rather spicy market as the city expands its residential options. So with that, let’s have a closer look at the market so we can answer this question: Rent or own?

Rental Market Blues

For the umpteenth time, the rental market in Boston continues to be considered one of the priciest in the nation — not exactly music to the ears of apartment hunters. The latest monthly report from real estate listings site Zumper offers us a glimpse into just how much apartments cost in the city. According to Zumper, Boston ranks third in the nation behind San Francisco and New York in the cost of renting a 1-BR apartment. Fortunately for prospective renters, the $2,250 median rent for a 1-BR represents a 1.3 percent drop from February; and the $2,600 median rent for a 2-BR was essentially unchanged from February into March, rising only 0.4 percent. So in that regard, renting continues to be about as good an option as last year. Here are a few developments for potential renters.

  • Piano Craft Guild

    There are still some vacancies in this 177-unit, six-story development. One-bedrooms start at $2,500; 2-BRs at $3,300; and 3-BRs at $4,600.

    Buying vs. Renting in Boston

  • Radian

The 240-unit, four-year-old development has at least a dozen studios, 1-BRs, and 2-BRs available. Studios start at $2,646; 1-BRs at $3,187; and 2-BRs at $3,846.

Buying vs. Renting in Boston

  • AVA Theater District

This 398-unit building was the largest apartment complex to open in Boston in 2015. There are still a number of units available now. Studios start at $2,550; 1-BRs at $2,539; and 2-BRs at $3,435.

Buying vs. Renting in Boston

While these options are especially enticing, and while Boston continues to undergo a nice facelift, there’s just too much demand, too little supply, and too many potential tenants able to pay the high monthly amounts. Consensus says that renting in greater Boston is a nightmare — and it’s less due to high costs and more due to just plain scarcity. It is this scarcity that has sent Boston rents soaring, and prospective tenants running.

Buy Me a River

Still with that in mind, does it mean that it’s better to buy? Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before going forward with purchasing your shiny new home.

  • How much is permanence worth to you? Owning a home can give you peace of mind and more control—owners can pretty much do anything they want within the four walls of their homes. Renters, however, are generally at the mercy of their landlords.
  • How confident are you that you’ll stick around? Buying a home tends to be a long term investment. This is because buyers need to cover the closing costs they might incur and the investment loss that comes with putting their savings into a down payment on a home. Plus there’s that pesky broker’s commission if you decide to sell.
  • How confident are you about your future income? Any number of things can happen to homeowners. For renters, losing a job or income only affects the remainder of a lease; whereas home-owners can face all sorts of darker troubles like foreclosure, eviction, and bad credit.

Whatever your situation, it’s important to consider the long term — buying a home requires you to look into the future and ask a potentially maddening question: where do you see yourself in ten years, twenty years, thirty years? It’s a major commitment. And beyond that, if you’re looking to buy the median-priced condo in Boston Proper, you’ll need to pay a $100,000 down payment — which is out of the question for many — and if you’re looking to settle out in the suburbs, you’ll need to have savings of up to $50,000.

Obviously, then, the answer to our question isn’t so simple. It depends a whole heck of a lot on your income, your career trajectory, your savings, your willingness to commit to a long-term investment, your ability to pay those costly monthly rents, and a whole host of other variables. Whatever direction you choose, make sure you give it as much thought and consideration as possible. Because, as we’ve demonstrated, it ain’t easy living in Boston.