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.

 

 

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.