Each year on Sept. 1, chaos returns. U-Hauls and moving vans flood the streets of Boston. Abandoned couches litter the sidewalks of Allston. At least one truck finds itself “Storrowed.”
The annual Great Beantown Move — the day when somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of city leases turn over — is the consequence of a decades-old precedent, created to accommodate the 200,000 college students who arrive in Boston every fall.
It’s also, as many residents know, a logistical nightmare.
“The origins of the September 1 move-in date is an open question for sociologists and economists everywhere,” said Doug Quattrochi, the executive director of the Massachusetts Landlords Association. “It doesn’t really benefit anyone.”
This year, between the red-hot housing market and the city’s snarled-up roads and rails, it could be even worse.
Surging rents and tight inventory have created desperate times for those on the hunt for new apartments. At the start of the year, the median one-bedroom apartment in town cost $2,720 per month, and in July fewer than one in every 200 apartments was vacant. To make things worse, the process of finding a place to live — and moving into it — has been complicated by the historic shutdown of the Orange Line and a section of the Green Line as well.
“When so many of the leases turn over on the same day, it creates a sense of urgency and panic around finding a lease and around moving in,” said Brennan McConnell, a soon-to-be Somerville resident. “If you do it wrong, you could be flat out of luck.”
But for McConnell, moving just days before Labor Day was unavoidable.
The 23-year-old, who uses they/them pronouns, once hoped to find a two-bedroom apartment in Somerville by Aug. 1. That way, McConnell could shift from Brighton immediately after their sublet agreement expired in July.
But there were no suitable August leases for McConnell and their roommate, a Tufts University graduate student.
Instead, McConnell moved home to Harvard, Mass., for 30 days, stuffing essentials in a car and dumping the rest — a 5-by-7-foot rug, an air conditioner, and an end table taken from a soon-to-shutter Barnes & Noble store — on the sidewalk. The floor of McConnell’s childhood bedroom is now strewn with a mattress, clothes, and art supplies.
“I’m living out of a laundry basket,” McConnell said. “I feel like I’m stuck, and moving all of my stuff two times in two months is a massive hassle.”
It’s a hassle indeed, particularly in early September. Every U-Haul in the region is booked this week, and reservations for Aug. 31 begin piling up six months in advance, said Jorge White, president of the U-Haul Co. of Boston.
The city has so far issued 4,477 moving truck permits for the last week of August, data show. That’s down about 1,000 permits from a year ago, but in line with the number issued in August 2018 and 2019. The apartment hunting website Renthop found that neighborhoods with the most Sept. 1 moving permits are the North End and Beacon Hill, followed by South Boston and Allston/Brighton.
Moving truck permits for Boston neighborhoods
Data represent permits by day through August and early September, Boston’s peak moving season. Click the play button to watch a time lapse of where Boston moves.
The Orange Line shutdown does not necessarily affect the number of permits, added Shane Lee, a statistical data analyst for Renthop. But it adds to the number of cars on the streets, making life more complicated for renters using moving trucks and giving those without cars fewer ways to get around.
And good luck finding a mover. Niles Kuronen of Gentle Giant Moving Co. said his firm — one of dozens in Massachusetts — helps 100 people a day in the weeklong span around Sept. 1. Many clients make those reservations in the spring.
“Our movers have to navigate around tons of U-Hauls and other moving trucks that week,” Kuronen added. “Sometimes, you’ll see five on the same street in Allston.”
Even residents with relatively simple moves run into a crush of issues.
Narjes Jaafar, for example, is moving just two floors up in her Brighton building, but her efforts to find roommates kept falling through. She responded to dozens of inquiries on Facebook. Nothing worked out.
Sometimes, her landlord turned down potential tenants. Other times, people simply stopped responding.
“You interview them. But somewhere along the way, you get ghosted or they find another place,” Jaafar said.
Jaafar arrived in Boston from Lebanon in spring 2021 and thought moving on Sept. 1 would give her additional options, since more people are now looking for places to live.
“But the process is driving me crazy,” she added. “It’s taking a toll on my mental health, and I’m tired coming into work because it feels like I’m working two jobs.”
And those moving into Greater Boston are wrestling with that whirlwind of stress for the first time.
Emily Fasanella, 20, spent most of the summer searching for an apartment from her parents’ home in New Jersey. When she finally landed a place in Cambridge, Fasanella’s roommate had to recruit her mother to persuade the landlord to let them move in on Aug. 30. She pleaded — hard.
“At least this way, thankfully, we get to avoid the rush,” said Fasanella, an online college student who previously lived in New Jersey and Florida.
Sophia Weinbar has a similar strategy, swapping Sept. 1 for a Labor Day weekend move. An incoming post-doctorate researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, she plans to start her drive from Chicago on Sept. 1 to miss the horde of moving trucks, and settle into her Brighton one-bedroom — with just clothes and plants in tow — by Saturday.
“I just don’t want to deal,” Weinbar said. “The process of finding an apartment was overwhelming, and now, this. My only coping mechanism is scrolling through Facebook Marketplace.”
In the end, watching the bedlam ensue is both a privilege and a curse for people who’ve avoided a Sept. 1 move this year.
Carolyn, an East Boston resident who declined to share her last name, intentionally shifted away from the cycle seven years ago, even though it cost her. She paid rent on two apartments one August and has since avoided any leases with a September start date.
Now, she advises others to do the same.
“If you can, get off Sept. 1,” Carolyn said. “Because that day, the city makes something that is supposed to be wonderful and exciting into something dreadful. The whole thing is a thorn in the side of Boston.”