Crowded In and Priced Out:
Housing Families in Greater Boston
A majority of “family-sized” units in Greater Boston aren’t occupied by families with children, a new MAPC study shows.
“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 in Boston and 12 surrounding cities and towns. The findings? Only 39 percent of homes with three or more bedrooms are occupied by a family with a child under the age of 18. Fourteen percent are occupied by a single person, 24 percent house two adults with no children, and 23 percent house three or more adults with no children
Many of the units without children are occupied by empty nesters with extra bedrooms: 25% of all three-plus bedroom units—over 50,000 homes—are occupied by one or two people over 55.
Rental units are more likely to be occupied by households with children (43% of total rentals) or three or more adults (34%). Owner-occupied units, however, have a higher share of one- and two-person no-children households. Owners were more likely to have empty bedrooms than renters.
Families looking for large rental units face stiff competition from roommate households. With the combined incomes of multiple adults, roommate households can pay, on average, $450 more in monthly rent than the average family in a large unit. 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.
As a result of all this competition, "Crowded In and Priced Out" finds that nearly one-quarter of families are severely cost burdened (paying more than half their income on housing) and nearly 10 percent are overcrowded, with more than two people per bedroom. Numbers are even higher for low-income households and residents of color.
Nearly one-quarter of families are severely cost burdened and nearly 10 percent are overcrowded.
The study specifically examined data for 13 municipalities (Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Milton, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop) and used data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) for Greater Boston. Because of the nature of the data, only Boston and Cambridge could be analyzed at the municipal level, but MAPC found no statistically significant difference in occupancy patterns compared to the entire study area, so chose not to break out municipal-specific numbers.
The results shed light on one aspect of Greater Boston’s overburdened housing market, demonstrating that there is no one cause of the lack of family housing. The challenges facing families looking for housing reflect a broader lack of housing units of all types, across price points and communities.
The challenges facing families looking for housing reflect a broader lack of housing units of all types, across price points and communities.
Smaller, senior-friendly units could enable older residents to downsize more quickly. More one-bedroom apartments attractive to, and affordable for, younger residents could reduce the number and spending power of roommate households competing with families for large units. The needs of families cannot be addressed in isolation, but require comprehensive action to produce more housing to meet the needs of all the region’s residents today, and tomorrow.
Read the full report on MAPC’s MetroCommon 2050 Digital Hub.