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Too many people, too few units

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A recent study from New York University’s Furman Center showed that rental growth has failed to keep pace with rising populations in 11 major U.S. cities, including Boston.
A recent study from New York University’s Furman Center showed that rental growth has failed to keep pace with rising populations in 11 major U.S. cities, including Boston. The Boston Globe

If you’re struggling to find an affordable Boston apartment, you might not be surprised to hear that the Hub is one of the 11 major U.S. cities where rental growth has failed to keep pace with rising population, according to a recent study from New York University’s Furman Center.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the study showed that Boston’s rental population expanded by 23 percent from 2006 to 2013, just as the vacancy rate fell to 3.5 percent. There are simply too many people for too few rental units, which explains why Boston rent is so expensive, with a median rent of $1,263 per month.

The number of people flocking to Boston is increasing in general. According to the census data for 2013, Boston’s overall population rose from about 618,000 in 2010 to roughly 646,000 in 2013 – that’s an added 28,000 people over three years.

Feeling the heat

The median household income is $53,601 in Boston, according to the Census Bureau, and for many moderate-income families, this income simply isn’t enough to comfortably afford rent. The study showed that 34 percent of moderate-income families in the Hub are severely rent-burdened, dedicating over half their income to rent and utility costs. Even if these renters wanted to move, they could afford less than a third of recently available rental units.

Rent burden becomes more serious for low-income families. The study showed that 60 percent of low-income renters were severely burdened, and this group could afford no more than 11 percent of recently available units in 2013. (However, at 60 percent, Boston had the lowest share of severely burdened low-income renters out of the metro areas studied).

Current residents are feeling the squeeze, and the number of tenants is only growing – in Boston and across the country. In 2013, at least 60 percent of Boston’s residents rented, while nationwide that number was 35 percent, up from 31 percent in 2006.

What can be done?

Despite the bleak findings, Boston had the highest share of affordable housing units in 2013, compared to the other 11 metro areas.

Last month Mayor Marty Walsh announced Boston2030, a citywide planning process aimed at creating 53,000 new housing units, of which 20,000 will be designated for middle-income earners.

“Under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston leads the nation in affordable housing, with nearly one-fifth of our housing stock set aside for lower-income households,’’ Lisa Pollack, spokesperson for Mayor Walsh’s Department of Neighborhood Development, told Boston.com last month.

The Walsh Administration recently announced an award of $39 million in federal and local funding to create or preserve 1,194 units of affordable housing.

The Boston Globe suggests renters stay put: “In each city, apartments that had come open within the last five years were less likely to be affordable to low- and middle-income tenants than apartments that hadn’t.’’