Keeping home maintenance affordable as housing prices rise

Boston has increased significantly in size since it was founded nearly four hundred years ago. The introduction of more people, more enterprises, and more culture has shaped the city as it is today. But, unfortunately, not everything about growth is positive. Boston is also facing a housing crisis. As property prices increase, homes can only be afforded by either extremely high-income families or by low-income families supported by subsidies. Those who fall into the gap between high and low incomes cannot afford housing in the Boston area.

Rapidly rising prices

A Boston Foundation housing report card issued in November 2015 cites the price of land as the root cause of the rise in home prices. Contractors who build homes pay a high price for land and must sell the finished housing at an equally high price to make a profit. In the rental marketplace, prices for the average two-bedroom apartment in Boston have risen 7 percent in the last year and a half alone to around $2,600 per month. That’s more $31,000 per year, just for rent. The report estimates that more than half of Boston residents devote more than 30 percent of their income to paying rent, and that nearly half of those people are paying over half of their income. With such a large slice of the family budget devoted to housing costs, many have no way of saving up for possible emergencies such as a medical crisis or loss of employment.

Those buying a home also face increasing prices. To purchase a condominium unit in traditional Boston triple-decker, a buyer should expect to pay $477,000, and prices are expected to continue trending upward in years to come. Current homeowners feel the effects of these increases in higher property taxes and insurance premiums.

Affordable maintenance

Over and above the monthly mortgage payment are the ongoing costs of utilities, insurance, and maintenance. The Boston Foundation report estimates that, in a triple-decker, maintenance averages $2,500 per year and may take up to 9 percent of a family’s monthly income.

This is where Boston Building Resources can help. While we can’t influence the price of housing, we can make maintenance more affordable by providing gently used materials at low prices from our Reuse Center, and by offering workshops that teach hands-on skills so homeowners can do the work themselves. When they save money at BBR, homeowners can spend it on other things or can move on to other home improvement projects that they otherwise would have had to put off until they had more money.

Having access to low-cost resources for home maintenance decreases the financial stress on families who are struggling with the high price of housing, helping to preserve neighborhood stability and diversity by making it possible for current homeowners to implement the necessary upkeep of their homes.

—Sean Yarolin