Please note: The data and analyses contained in this section are no longer being updated and are presented here solely as an archive of Boston Indicators’ work on this Indicators Framework between the years 2000 and 2015.



Goal: 7.1 Retaining Boston's Competitive Advantage in Housing





Case Schiller Home Price Index

For Boston to sustain its competitive edge as a thriving high-tech center that can grow, attract and retain knowledge workers, it must be able to offer a range of housing choices and prices.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indicec are the leading measures for the US residential housing market, tracking changes in the value of residential real estate both nationally as well as in 20 metropolitan regions

As of May 2012 Metro Boston's home prices had risen for the sixth consecutive month and were 3.3% higher than the market bottom in March of 2009.  However, prices have not fully recovered to where they were prior to the recession and remain 17% lower than the peak in September 2005.

Among the 20 Metro Regions tracked by the Case Schiller Home Price Index, Boston had the third most stable home prices losing 20% of value from peak to trough, behind Dallas where values declined by 11% and Denver where values declined by 14%.  In comparison, Las Vegas and Phoenix home values declined by 62% and 56% respectively between market peak and bottom.

However, Boston has not recovered as quickly as other Metros.  From market bottom through May 2012 home prices increased by 3.3%, the fourth lowest of the 20 regions.  By comparison, values in San Francisco and Washington DC have increased by 15% and 12% respectively from the market bottom to present.


Mortgage Debt




Affordable housing is critical for the continued expansion of Boston's economy, job opportunities, and population. When mortgage debt exceeds the ability of homeowners to pay for it on their incomes, foreclosures occur and families are forced from the city and its environs.

Housing cost burdens have increased since 1990, from 28.3% of households paying more than 30% of their income on rent, to 38.4% saying the same in 2009-2013. These increases are largely due to rising prices in the Greater Boston Area, rather than falling incomes. Unfortunately, these rising prices frequently affect those who are least able to afford them - displacing minority and low income families from their communities in favor of whiter, often younger families and professionals.

Goal: 7.2 Housing Affordable to all Residents





Median Home Price, Boston Neighborhoods

Boston has traditionally had a healthy mix of people of all incomes.  While some neighborhoods were high-priced, others offered homeownership and rental opportunities at affordable prices.  Today, many Boston residents who have lived in a community for years or even a lifetime are finding that they cannot afford to purchase a home in Boston.  Likewise, newcomers to the city - whether recently recruited professionals, graduates of local universities, or newcomer immigrant families - are experiencing sticker shock at local housing prices.

In 2011, the citywide median sales price of $362,500 was a 4% increase compared to 2010 for one-, two- and three-family homes and condominiums of $349,000. This is the second year that the citywide median sales price increased since the market peak in 2005 of $390,000.

Since 2005, median sales prices have fluctuated across Boston's neighborhoods, with the steepest declines found in neighborhoods hardest-hit by the housing and foreclosure crisis, which already had a less-established homeowner base. However, since 2010, many neighborhoods have seen increases in the median home price, most notably Roxbury with a 16% increase and Mattapan with a 9% increase.  Fenway/Kenmore saw a 9% decrease, Hyde Park saw a 4% decrease, and West Roxbury saw a 6% decrease since 2010.

Despite moderating home prices, housing is less affordable in Boston and the region.  In 2010, Boston’s median household income was $49,893, with 57% of renters and 45% of homeowners spending more than 35% of their income on housing.  Those spending more than 50% increased from 20% in 2000 to 25% in 2009.  In Massachusetts, about half of renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Median Rent of 2 BR Unit, Boston Neighborhoods

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, residents should not pay more than 30% of their income towards housing. High housing costs can create financial distress for households.  A lack of disposable income limits our choices in terms of food, transportation, recreation, and educational enrichment.
As Boston’s home prices have declined and foreclosures increased, rents have increased.  Fiscal Year HUD Fair Market Rents (FMRs) increased from FY2011 to FY2012 for all bedroom types by 1%. The median advertised asking rent increased by 25% from $1,600 in 2010 to $2,000 in 2011.  The change in median rents increased in all neighborhoods from 2010 to 2011 except for Hyde Park, which decreased by 4%.  South Boston saw the largest increase of 52% in median rent.  The South End and Central Boston also saw significant increases in median rent by 19% and 16%.  Also, Fiscal Year HUD Fair Market Rents (FMRs) increased by 1% from FY2011 to FY2012. According to the Department of Neighborhood Development, the number of listings in 2011 decreased by 67% because of less turnover and vacancy rates decreasing by half.

The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8.00 per hour, and the 2011 median rent for a 2-BR apartment in Boston is $2100.   At minimum wage, a person would have to work 450 hours per month in order to afford a 2-BR apartment at median rent.

Combined Housing and Transit Cost Burden

Next to housing, transportation is typically the second largest cost burden on a family.  Nationally, for every dollar a working family saves on housing, it spends 77 cents more on transportation.  This shows the basic tradeoff many working families face between paying a greater share of their income for housing or enduring long commutes and high transportation costs. Households in Metro Boston spend an average of 47% of household income on combined housing and transportation costs according to the Combined Housing & Transit Cost Index calculated by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.  In Boston, where the median household income is $52,400, residents spend an average of 56% of their household income on housing and transportation.  However, this is driven primarily by high housing cost burden (41%) as opposed to transit cost burden (15%).


Housing Cost Burden

  • Percent of Renters Spending More Than 30% of Income on Housing
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, residents should not pay more than 30% of their income towards housing. High housing costs can create financial distress for households.  A lack of disposable income limits our choices in terms of food, transportation, recreation, and educational enrichment.
As of 2010, 36% of home owners and 48% of renters in Boston spent more than 30% of gross income on housing costs.  The housing cost burden is greatest for those with the lowest household incomes: 95% of owners and 74% of renters with incomes less than $20,000 spent more than one-third of income on housing.  By comparison, among Boston households earning more than $75,000 16% of owners and 8% of renters were cost-burdened by housing.

Cost burden varies by neighborhood with the greatest concentration of rental cost burdened households in the Fenway/Kenmore area and parts of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Hyde Park where more than 70% of renters were cost burdened in 2010.  Because Boston has a substantial inventory of affordable and subsidized housing, there are low rates of cost-burdened households in areas with the lowest household incomes.

Goal: 7.3 Equitable Distribution of Affordable Housing





Distribution of Affordable Housing in Boston and Metro Boston

  • Subsidized Housing Units, Boston
  • Subsidized Housing Inventory, Massachusetts
  • 40R Units, Massachusetts

The ideal is to create a range of housing affordability within each of Boston’s neighborhoods to provide for a healthy mix of residents – including seniors, singles, young families, and people of many backgrounds and all incomes. 

Boston has consistently retained a subsidized housing inventory that is about 20% of total housing stock, allowing Boston to remain a city that is welcoming and supportive of households of all income levels.  However, only 35 cities and towns statewide have a subsidized housing inventory above 10%, 130 communities have between 5% and 10% subsidized and 186 communities have less than 5% affordable housing.  Under Chapter 40B, communities with less than 10% affordable housing a housing developer can circumvent local zoning laws and build high-density housing as long as 25% of the units are designated as affordable.

Goal: 7.4 Fair Housing





Housing Density

  •  Population with Close Proximity to MBTA Station

Transit-oriented development—or dense, comprehensive development with a mix of housing, retail and services around transit stations—has garnered attention among planners, environmentalists, and public health advocates.  These developments allow walking and bicycling within neighborhoods for healthier and less sedentary lifestyles, and they reduce auto dependency, which translates into lower consumption of fossil fuels, less air pollution, and lower spending on transportation.  The concept of transit-oriented development is not new to Boston, a city that created streetcar suburbs in the 19th century and still continues to function best along transit lines.

Almost 80% of jobs in Boston, 51% of Boston’s public schools and 56% of all Boston residents are located within a 10-minute walk of an MBTA commuter rail or subway station or a surface trolley stop.

An analysis of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s development pipeline by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy found that new “transit oriented” development was proposed or under construction in 15 of Boston’s 19 neighborhoods.  The 46 proposed projects located within ¼ mile of a transit or commuter rail station represent a pipeline of more than 9,000 housing units and 23 million square feet of development.

Concerned about traffic congestion, loss of open space and increases in air pollution, many cities and towns in Metro Boston are starting to promote “smart growth” and transit-oriented development.  Although the number of smart growth projects and the number of communities working to attract such development is on the rise, needed changes in zoning are still very slow.

Goal: 7.5 Adequate Housing Supply





Change in Number of Households

  • Percent Households the Moved in Between 2000-2004, Owners
  • Percent Households the Moved in After 2005, Owners
  • Percent Households the Moved in Between 2000-2004, Renters
  • Percent Households the Moved in After 2005, Renters

Rapid movement in and out of a neighborhood affects the ability of people to get to know and trust their neighbors, and may reflect a process of either deterioration or gentrification - with lower-income people being displaced because of rising rents and home values, as wealthier people move in.  On the other hand, too little turnover can result in stagnation and the threat of disinvestment.  Finding the right balance is a challenge - particularly in neighborhoods with a high percentage of renters who have little direct control over prices.

Boston continues to have a highly mobile population.  As of 2010, 73% of all householders had moved into their current residence since 2000, with 41% of householders having moved into their current homes since 2008.  Among households who moved since 2008, 88% were renters, a more highly mobile population.

Neighborhoods with the largest percentage of renters who moved in after 2000 are Fenway/Kenmore (81%), Allston/Brighton (68%) and East Boston (59%).  Neighborhoods with the largest proportion of owner households that moved in after 2000 are Charlestown (28%), West Roxbury (28%), Hyde Park (27%) and South Boston (24%).


Adequate Housing Supply

  • Total Vacant Properties
  • Total Vacancy Rate
  • Owner Vacancy Rates
  • Rental Vacancy Rates
Too many vacant units can be a sign of blight for a neighborhood, while too few reflect a housing shortage which can lead to increased prices which may crowd-out some residents.

The most recent census data shows that the total number of vacant properties in Boston increased to 19,782 in 2010, up from 12,407 in 2000 when Boston's housing bubble was still growing.  Total vacancy rates have also in crease to nearly 8% in 2010 up from about 5% in 2000.  In 2010 46% of vacant housing units were for rent, up from 40% in 2000, and 9.6% were for sale, up from 6.2% a decade earlier.

More recent data from commercial real estate companies show the region's rental vacancy rate below 5% of total rental inventory in 2012  leading to a surge in average rents.  This is a trend that will likely continue as Boston's housing market recovers from the recession.

Goal: 7.6 Adequate Housing Production





Adequate Housing Production

  • Total Housing Units by Number of Permits, Boston
  • Total Single-Family Housing Units by Number of Permits, Boston
  • Total Number of Multi-Family Housing Units Permits, Boston and Massachusetts
  • Total Number of Building Units Permits, Massachusetts

The bottom line is that Boston and the region have an insufficient supply of housing in general and an acute need for housing of all types except at the highest end of the market.

The 2008 recession and housing crisis has affected housing production in Greater Boston as it has elsewhere. According to the 2011 Greater Housing Report Card, for all of 2010, the five counties in the Greater Boston region including Suffolk, Norfolk, Middlesex, Essex, and Plymouth issued a grand total of just 5,823 permits for new units of housing. This represented an improvement of nearly 24% over the extraordinary low 2009 level. The decline in housing production in the region has been most severe in multi-unit buildings. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of permits for single-family homes declined by nearly 62 percent, but this was eclipsed by the 72 percent decline in two-to-four unit buildings and by 75 percent in larger buildings with five units or more.

Goal: 7.7 Homelessness Prevention




Homelessness Prevention

  • Total & Homeless Children


The City of Boston conducts an annual census of the homeless. Undertaken each December in Boston’s homeless shelters, and in the streets, it documents the need for more permanent and temporary housing solutions.  According to Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, this may underestimate the actual number of homeless people in the city, since cold temperatures and lowered shelter capacity can drive people to seek shelter in places where they cannot be located or counted.

Boston's total homeless population was 7,286 in 2010, falling for the second year after reaching a high of 7,681 in 2008.  However, this is more than 2,200 homeless Bostonians than in 1997 when the count was 5,016.  Even more worrisome is that 30% of the homeless population in 2010 were children under 18 compared to 1997 when 18% of the homeless were children.

Goal: 7.8 Healthy Homes and Housing




Abandoned Properties by Boston Neighborhoods

  • Abandoned Properties, Boston
  • Distressed Buildings by Planning District


An abandoned building represents the loss of a residential or commercial resource.  In addition, abandoned buildings represent blight on a neighborhood, a threat to health and safety, and a loss of potential property tax revenue.  If abandoned buildings are not sold or renovated immediately, time takes a further toll on the structures, making re-use of the property an increasingly expensive and difficult venture.

In 2010, 246 buildings were categorized as abandoned or distressed by the City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development.  This represents a decrease over 2008 which found 318 of such buildings, but strikingly lower than in 1997 when more than 1,000 buildings were categorized as such.  Of these buildings in 2010, 127 (51.6%) were residential, whereas 119 (48.3%) were commercial and/or mixed-use.


Foreclosure Petitions

  • Foreclosure Deeds
  • Foreclosure Deeds by Planning District
Mortgage foreclosed buildings can have a destabilizing effect on the real estate market, slowing housing sales and leading to vacancies, economic disinvestment, and physical deterioration.  All of these factors adversely impact a neighborhood’s quality of life.  Foreclosure is also an indicator of financial instability in families, households, and investors once able to meet their monthly mortgage payments

The City of Boston recorded 525 foreclosure deeds in 2011 down from the most recent peak of 1,215 in 2008 but still well above the years 2000 through 2005 when fewer than 100 foreclosure deeds were recorded annually.

Despite the overall decline foreclosures remain highly concentrated in Dorchester, with 149 in 2011, and Roxbury, with 79.  By comparison, there were fewer than 10 foreclosure deeds in Central Boston, Charlestown, Back Bay/Beacon Hill, the South End and Fenway.

Goal: 7.9 Public Funding for Housing





Trends in Public Funding for Housing

  • Massachusetts Funding for Housing & Community Development

State and federal funding for housing are essential for the production of affordable housing, reduction of homelessness and support of smart growth development that help to support stability and affordability within communities. 

The Massachusetts Legislature allocated more than $364 million to support housing programs, subsidies an development, down 8.5% from the $398 million allocated in FY12.  Despite the one-year decline, funding for housing is up by 24% from FY09 when adjusted for inflation.

Continuing support for a "Housing First" approach to homelessness reduction, which began in FY07, the legislature further reduced funding for Emergency Assistance housing and Hotels/Motels by more than $57 million in FY13 in favor of increased funding for the HomeBase, up $17 million, Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, up $6 million, and Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, up $8.5 million.