Why I Left Boston

It’s official – the last of my ties to the Boston area have been cut, as our lease on the apartment in Belmont expired on June 30th. I have some mixed emotions about leaving the Boston area, but overall am delighted with the change. I thought I would take the opportunity of my newfound rent-free existence to reflect on the reasons why I left.

It’s all about the Benjamins

When thinking about the long-term viability of living in Belmont, the aspect most fatal to staying was simple – housing is exorbitantly expensive. The 2-bedroom, ~900 square foot apartment where my wife and I lived cost just under $1,900 per month, and rose to $2,100 once we left. That’s over $25,000 per year just in rent!

It’s also worth noting that our rent went up between 3% and 5% every year, which admittedly was less than the 15 – 20% rent increases seen just down the road in Cambridge. Those kinds of rent increases are several times the general rate of inflation, and certainly outpaced the growth in our household income. When costs inflate at a higher rate than income, that’s a long-term path to financial hardship.

 

rent heat map
Slightly dated rent heat map of the Boston area – I was living in the yellow-ish area west of Harvard Square. Source: WBUR

The prospect of stabilizing our housing costs by buying a home was also fraught. We really didn’t want to have to dive into the fray of endless open houses, bidding wars, and exhausting our savings, especially when the hard-fought prize would be a condo no better – and possibly worse – than the apartment we were already renting in Belmont.

I won’t get into what I think are the causes of or solutions to the shortage of affordable housing in the Boston area (cough cough zoning reform sneeze wheeze build more housing). I am only pointing out that housing affordability by itself was the main reason why my wife and I left Boston.

Green Acres

One of my favorite pastimes, when I have the time to do it, is cycling. I love getting out on the road and winding down country roads lost in thought. Unfortunately, biking from Belmont would take me at least 45 minutes to get out of dense suburban development, and then another hour to get into anything resembling “rural.” That’s two hours of pedaling to get into the real cycling territory.

I contrast that with Holyoke, where it seems like I live in a city on nature’s doorstep. A great example of this is the Mount Tom State Reservation, just up the hill from our house. There is amazing hiking, beautiful vistas, and a real feeling of seclusion. And if you go more than 5 or 10 miles east or west of the Connecticut River valley, it quickly gets pastoral and hilly. The mix of urban amenities and nearby natural areas is deeply gratifying.

20160131_161629
Picture of me with my friend Andrew and his buddy Nigel in a big abandoned rock quarry on Mt. Tom.

Potential

Finally, one of the more intangible things I love about Holyoke is something that I can only call potential. It is a city with amazing resources being underutilized. It has gobs of industrial space just begging to get turned into something – anything – productive. It has pocket parks and scenic overlooks that, sure, need to be spruced up and maintained, but are primed to be activated. And it has a core of citizens who have stuck with the city through the bad decades of arson and urban decline, and are committed to the city’s nascent resurgence.

But more than that is the potential Holyoke is unlocking in me. Frankly, the Boston area doesn’t need another civic-minded bicycle enthusiast. The Pioneer Valley, on the other hand, might have a place for a guy with a laptop, free GIS software, and no shortage of opinions. And a blog.

As I said, I have mixed feelings about leaving Boston – there is a wealth of culture, a critical mass of very smart people, and is the political and economic engine of the Bay State. As I spend more time in the Pioneer Valley, though, I recognize how clearly right my decision was. All of the economic incentives were there for me to vacate the Boston area, and my wife and I were so lucky to find a place waiting for us in Holyoke.

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