“Crowded in and Priced Out:” Housing Families with Children in Greater Boston

Study finds families with children are priced out of housing, and frequently living in over-crowded conditions;
building more family housing, and helping seniors and roommates to find better housing options, could help solve the problem

Amanda Linehan
Communications Director
Metropolitan Area Planning Council

BOSTON – Nearly one out of every four families with children in 13 Greater Boston communities pay more than half their income for housing, while nearly one in ten live in overcrowded conditions – with more than two people per bedroom – according to a new study released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) today.

Conditions are even more dire for low-income households and residents of color, the study found. The research area included Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Milton, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop.

“Our collective failure to act on the Commonwealth’s dire housing shortage has a direct impact on children. We make them pay for our mistakes. A low or moderate-income family who pays more than half their income for housing can’t possibly meet other expenses, such as transportation, food, and health care,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of MAPC, the regional planning agency serving Greater Boston.

Ironically, the study shows that a majority of “family-sized” units aren’t even occupied by families with children. “Crowded In and Priced Out: Why It’s So Hard to Find a Family Sized-Unit in Greater Boston” examines who’s living in “family-sized” housing units with three or more bedrooms. According to the research, only 39 percent of such homes are occupied by a family with a child under the age of 18.

“Even as large families in Greater Boston are increasingly overcrowded and overburdened by housing costs, most family-sized units in the area don’t actually house families,” said Sarah Philbrick, a Socioeconomic Analyst at MAPC and one author of the report.

Often, larger units are occupied by empty nesters with extra bedrooms, or by groups of adult roommates whose combined income allows them to pay, on average, $450 more in monthly rent than a family.

In fact, fewer than one in ten roommates in a large unit could afford the median priced one-bedroom unit in the area, and the lack of affordable smaller options has pushed more younger householders into roommate households since 2000, increasing competition for the limited supply of large units.

Similarly, senior households who might want to downsize and free up home for families with children, can’t find affordable options in or near the community where they currently live.

“Just one of the many unfortunate realities of the current housing crisis is that individuals and couples who would normally live in smaller units can’t afford to, and instead need to live with roommates to make ends meet. Not only do we need more and larger units for families, but we have to make sure smaller units are affordable so that groups of roommates, with multiple incomes, aren’t competing with one- or two-income families for the same housing,” said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who leads the Metro Mayors Coalition, which works to solve regional challenges such as the housing affordability crisis. “This is just one of the reasons that the Metro Mayors Housing Task Force committed to addressing our housing challenges on a regional level. We all have to work together to produce the right types of housing for our residents.”

One solution is to create more units with three of more bedrooms. In fact, newer family units created since 2000 are more likely to house families with kids – 52 percent, compared to 38 percent for older units. So creating more of family-sized units would help a great many families.

But that won’t be enough to solve the problem. According to the study, smaller, senior-friendly units could allow older residents to downsize more quickly, increasing the number of existing family-sized units available in the near future. Producing more affordable one-bedroom apartments could draw younger residents away from roommate situations and reduce competition for family-sized units.

“There is no one cause, and no one solution, to the lack of family housing in Greater Boston,” said Tim Reardon, Data Services Director at MAPC and another author of the report. “We can’t solve the problem for families unless we are also meeting the needs of seniors and young adults. That means more housing of all types across all of our communities, so people have more choices. With additional supply, we’ll see more family units come back on the market and reduced competition for the ones that are available.”

The study used data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey (ACS).

Read the full study at https://mapc.ma/largeunits.