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When you can’t afford to live in Boston, where do you go?

The third episode of the BoZton video series examines what the city loses when its sky-high cost of living pushes young people away.

Boston soaring rent forces many out but when moving further isn't enough? Where do you go?
The third episode of the BoZton video series examines what the city loses when its sky-high cost of living pushes young people away.

Rayla Johnson wanted independence. She had spent her childhood between Roxbury, Dedham, and Hyde Park under the supervision of her mother and grandparents, and decided two years ago — finally — to strike out on her own.

Johnson, then 24 and working as a Boston Public Schools paraprofessional, set a monthly rent budget of $1,400 for a one-bedroom apartment.

That’s enough to get a place in Minneapolis (where the median rent for a one-bedroom is $1,410), Dallas ($1,390), or Pittsburgh ($1,250), according to the property listing website Zumper. In Boston ($2,990), not so much.

“I started looking in the Boston area because I was like, ‘It would be nice to be closer to my grandparents,’” in Hyde Park, said Johnson, now a graduate student in mental health counseling. “It was an absolute no. I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t find anything under, like, $2,000.”


That meant that she would have to leave behind her life in the city — shuffling between classes, modeling gigs, and dinners with friends — for something further away.

After searching as far as south of Rhode Island, Johnson settled on a Foxborough apartment 30 miles from downtown Boston for $1,394 a month, plus utility costs.

Such is the predicament of thousands of young Boston residents. Many born-and-raised Bostonians and city-loving transplants alike wish to live within the city’s 23 neighborhoods, but find themselves relegated to far-off suburbs because of the price of rent, with or without roommates.

When that happens, throngs of people who make Boston hum are cast off to quieter towns. And the city loses out on the vibrancy they might’ve brought.

What’s worse, Johnson said, was the distance from the essential pieces of her life. She spent hours driving in soul-crushing traffic between Foxborough and Boston for work each day. Her family and friends were always far away. Nowhere in town felt walkable, like where she had grown up.


“My grandparents are like everything to me,” Johnson said. “It was hard for me to not be close to them. Everybody lives on that side of town — my godparents, my church.”

“My friends came here when I first moved in, and now they say I live far,” she added. “They’re like, ‘When you’re in the city, let us know.’”

The financial calculus stopped making sense this fall. Johnson’s landlord had upped her rent to $1,500 last year. Over the summer, she learned there would be another $100 increase when her lease renewed in October.

Instead, Johnson reluctantly moved back to Hyde Park to live in her grandparents’ renovated basement, forgoing her hard-fought independence.

But she’s happy to be able to make small talk again with neighbors she has known for decades and spend time in the kitchen with her grandmother. And with only $450 to pay in rent to her family each month, she has more financial freedom to cover expenses at graduate school and figure out her career.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Johnson said.

Explore the entire BoZton video series here.

Curious about affordability — or lack thereof — in Boston? Read more:

'BoZton' video series tells Gen Z stories
WATCH: Reporter Diti Kohli sits down with young Bostonians to talk about housing, finances, and their futures in the city.

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.