Homeownership in Greater Boston eludes many as prices skyrocket

One of the marks of adulthood — owning a home — has steadily slipped out of reach for many people in the Greater Boston area.

Nowhere is that more evident than East Watertown, where market forces such as low supply and restrictive zoning laws have driven up home prices well beyond what they once were, the Boston Globe reported.

Once affordable on a single working-class income, properties in Greater Boston now command prices several times higher than the median household income.

The typical house in Massachusetts once sold for three times the median household income — a reach, but manageable. Today, it sells for eight times the median household income.

The age of the median first-time homebuyer nationwide climbed from 29 in 1981 to 36 in 2022, and a growing share of people here pour their income into rent, rather than a mortgage.

Mary Logue, an East Watertown resident who is in her 90s, lived in her modest home for decades. She told the Globe she knows that her opportunities are not available to her children and grandchildren.

“They say there’s no way they can buy a place right now,” she says. “And they might be right.”

In the 1980s, home prices exploded in the Boston area, so much so that each of Mary’s children had taken up residence in her downstairs apartment in an attempt to buy their own house.

One of her children hit the lottery — literally — and put some of the winnings toward a house. Another bought a condo for $40,000 in the 1980s. He kept trading up — through the assistance of veterans affairs mortgages — until he bought a four-bedroom home in Belmont.

But what does he tell his kids of homeownership? A unit in the complex where he bought a $40,000 condo recently sold for $425,000. Another one of his homes is estimated to be worth over $1 million now.

Another one of Mary’s children moved in with his wife into Mary’s downstairs apartment, a temporary arrangement that turned into 40 years.

Mary’s grandchildren face even steeper obstacles to homeownership in the area.

“I get it — Boston is a city filled with opportunities,” grandchild Justin Logue, 34, told the Globe. “But there’s a side of me that feels sad because I don’t think I can afford a home anywhere near where I grew up.”

One grandchild, James, who does own a home skipped college, became a tradesman and bought a multifamily for over $400,000 and then took years to renovate the place. He now rents the six-bedroom place out for below-market rent to friends and acquaintances.

To do that, he had to make massive sacrifices in what should have been his carefree 20s.

“My choices have always been dictated by money,” he said. “My life has been dictated by money.”

Anyone looking for an increase in the housing stock in the area shouldn’t hold their breath. In Milton, for example, a battle is being waged over whether to abide by a new law requiring multifamily housing along T-stops.

The prosperous bedroom town is known for its restrictive single-family zoning laws and picturesque landscapes, the Boston Globe reported. And some are asking whether it’s worth it to give up the T stop to get around having to build more multifamily housing.

— Ted Glanzer

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