Can You Afford To Live In Boston? (Maybe Outside Suffolk County)

Originally posted on July 10, 2017 9:00 am
Updated on July 09, 2017 11:42 pm

Median Annual Income Won’t Afford Suffolk County Apartments

We pulled data for two-bedroom median rents across Boston ($2,600 for the whole metro area), and found many neighborhoods to be quite affordable, much more affordable, in fact, than Los Angeles and Miami, where nearly all neighborhoods had rents out of reach of the average household. Unfortunately for many Bostonians, these affordable neighborhoods are outside Suffolk County. To determine what is and is not affordable, RentHop data scientists used the most recent Census’ American Community Survey data for median household income as well as our own rental data.

The ACS data shows highly varying incomes across the counties that make up the Boston/Cambridge Metro Area. Suffolk median household income is estimated at $56,771, while Essex is a bit higher at $68,455. Middlesex was significantly higher at $90,267 and Norfolk County one of the highest in the nation at $94,039. The lower income in Suffolk County greatly contributed to its not being affordable, despite the most expensive neighborhoods in the metro area were in Suffolk County.

The 40x Rule

Another metric we used to calculate what is and isn’t affordable is the 40x rule. This is the rule of thumb for most landlords in pretty much every major city. This guideline says that the household income must be at least 40 times the monthly rent. For example: two bedroom median rent across Boston is currently $2,600. A Boston household will need to make at least $104,000 combined for an apartment at that price. This is above any of the ACS estimates, even the more affluent Middlesex and Norfolk Counties.

There are exceptions to this rule: If you have vast savings or a guarantor whom makes 80 times the rent, a landlord is likely to let you slide without meeting the income requirements. It’s also not unheard of for a landlord to request last month’s rent in addition to the first month and security deposit for those with below average credit / income. Our “how much can I afford” guide can give you a little more info on these rules and some ways to overcome them.

So how much DO you need to make to live in a Boston neighborhood?

The Map Below Shows Income Required for a 2-Bedroom Apartment in Boston/Cambridge

The map above shows the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in neighborhoods across The Boston Metro Area, including most of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties. We used data for the trailing 6 months as of July 1, 2017 to calculate the median asking rent and multiplied that by 40 to calculate the customary income requirement to rent an apartment. Median household income is all according to the Census American Community Survey 2015, table S1903.

If the data presented on the map doesn’t align with what you pay or makes you wonder how people can afford to live, that’s because we are only mapping current asking rents. Housing stock is fairly limited, and many people are locked in at lower rents negotiated in the past.

What Are the Least Affordable Places to Live in Boston?

The sub-neighborhood of Bay Village topped the list of least affordable neighborhoods with median rent of $6,215 per month, requiring $248,600 of annual income to afford. That’s 438% of the Suffolk County median household income. Not too far behind was Back Bay, with income of $176,000 required to secure a $4,400 two-bedroom there. Chinatown-Leather District($4,270) is 3rd most expensive while Downtown Boston($4,138) and West End($3,947.50) round out the Top 5.

Kendall Square is the least affordable non-Suffolk County neighborhood on the list, requiring $162,880 to rent a $4,072 two-bedroom there; 180% of the Middlesex County median income.

The Table Below Displays all Two-Bedroom Median Asking Rents

It also shows the income required for all neighborhoods that we had sufficient data. Click any column name to sort by that column, or type in a neighborhood name to search for yours.

Is There Anywhere in Boston That’s Actually Affordable?

Click a column head to re-sort the table in ascending order. This will show us the most affordable places in the Boston Metro area. Topping the list is a chunk of Norfolk County neighborhoods.

Adams Shore($1,550 for a two-bedroom), East Weymouth($1,550), and Braintree Highlands($1,575) are all very affordable, requiring less than 70% of the annual median income to rent, helped by the much higher median income of Norfolk County.

Downtown Woburn($1,650) was the most affordable Middlesex County neighborhood, needing just 73% ($66,000) of the median income to afford to live there. Peabody Town Center($1,400) is the most affordable Essex County neighborhood, requiring $56,000 or 82% of the $68,455 median income to live there.

What Does This Mean For You?

While these stats aren’t the only factor that determines what one can and cannot afford, they certainly give an advantage to anyone that didn’t know where to start when deciding where to live and how much they can afford. We encourage you to entertain all options when finding a new apartment, including having as many income-earners in the household as possible and looking at apartments with more bedrooms to bring down the average cost per bedroom.

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