As 2023 draws to a close, Greater Boston’s housing crisis is only getting more dire, as the state scrambles to create more new housing and residents struggle to afford what little supply is available.
By just about every measure, it is getting increasingly difficult to live around here, and the Boston Foundation’s 2023 Greater Boston Housing Report Card, breaks down why in great detail. Inventory is plummeting, renters are getting squeezed, and many communities simply aren’t building enough to keep pace.
“Housing is a universal human need and yet, as a region and a society, we continue to fall short of fulfilling that need for all,” said M. Lee Pelton, the president and chief executive of the Boston Foundation, in a statement alongside the report.
The bleak data contained in the report underscore the goals of Governor Maura Healey, who has called housing “the single biggest challenge facing folks across Massachusetts.” Her administration recently released a sweeping bill to funnel billions of dollars into affordable housing and enact other housing-friendly policy changes.
Boston, too, is working to tackle the issue in a variety of ways, with Mayor Michelle Wu reviving a push for citywide rent control and offering tax breaks to developers who turn office buildings into housing.
Here are six graphs that illustrate where the region stands in terms of housing, and what it means for the people who call the area home.
Production is falling short of goals
Though the region has set benchmarks for digging itself out of the housing crisis, it is not on pace to meet them. In 2018, the Metro Mayors Coalition — a group of 15 communities in the core of Greater Boston — announced its intention to build a collective 185,000 new residential units by 2030.
But in 2022, midway through that timeframe, they’re just over a quarter of the way to that figure, according to the report.
Part of this is due to bottlenecks fueled by the skyrocketing cost of construction, which stands in the way of projects that would otherwise be underway. The report pointed to “historic highs” in the number of residential projects in the Northeast that have been authorized but have not yet begun construction, with 33,800 such units stuck in this limbo in July (compared with 7,900 units the same time a decade ago).
And where new housing has been permitted varies widely by geography. Metro core communities — areas in or around urban centers, such as Boston, Cambridge, and Everett — tended to approve the most new units between 2018 and 2022, in terms of raw numbers.
But to “adjust for city size,” the report also examined units permitted as a percentage of each community’s 2017 housing stock. By this measure, Boston ranked 21st out of 147 municipalities, adding 6.2 percent of its 2017 inventory.
The place that built the most? Medford, which grew its housing stock by 23.6 percent, followed by Plymouth (12.4 percent) and Franklin (12.3 percent).
The amount of available housing — either to rent or to buy — is tight nationwide, but is extraordinarily scarce in Greater Boston.
When it came to rental vacancy rates in the 10 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, Boston fell dead last in 2022, with an availability rate of just 2.5 percent. New York, by contrast, clocked in at 3.5 percent, while Houston, earning the top spot, came in at 8.9 percent.
Boston fared a bit better in the homeowner market, with a vacancy rate of 0.7 percent — still minuscule, but edging slightly above Washington, D.C., (0.6 percent) and Los Angeles (0.5 percent). The Federal Reserve’s bid to cool inflation by hiking interest rates has paralyzed the region’s housing market, with sellers and buyers alike unwilling to contend with the current sky-high cost of borrowing money.
The cost of living here
For the residents who can find and afford to rent something here, it is taking more and more of their paychecks to do so.
The share of “cost burdened” renters — those who spend at least 30 percent of their income on rent — has inched up statewide in recent years. Fifty-one percent of all renter households were cost burdened last year, marking the first time in almost 20 years that they have accounted for the majority, according to the report.
But the squeeze was not felt equally by all income groups. In 2022, 83 percent of households making less than $34,000 a year or between $35,000 and $49,999 a year qualified as cost burdened, compared with 21 percent of those making more than $75,000.
The data also highlight how the housing crisis has grown to envelop Massachusetts’ middle class. In 2012, only 28 percent of renter households earning $50,000 to $74,999 were cost-burdened. Last year, that figure had climbed to 74 percent.
While the burden for renters is relatively consistent across racial groups, Black and Latino homeowners face a disproportionate strain, with 19 percent of Black owners and 15 percent of Latino owners qualifying as “severely cost burdened” — meaning they put 50 percent or more of their income toward housing costs — compared with 12 percent of residents overall.
Once again, geography had a large influence on the breakdown of affordability. In Boston, for instance, 46.7 percent of renter households were cost burdened, compared with 41.1 percent in Cambridge and 36.4 percent in Somerville.
Farther-flung suburbs, such as Sudbury (33 percent) or Wrentham (30.3 percent), “tend to have higher incomes and fewer rental units as a share of their overall housing market,” according to the report, which is why they typically have lower shares of cost burdened renter households.
But even in some of the wealthiest pockets of the state, there are outliers. Carlisle and Sherborn carried the highest shares of renter households that are cost burdened (95.2 percent and 80.4 percent, respectively), likely because rental housing in those areas is so slim to begin with.