As Investor Interest in Allston Grows, Opportunities for Prospective Homeowners Dwindle

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Allston residents said that the dearth of available housing as well as rising rental prices can be traced in part to a trend of investors purchasing homes, dividing up the units, and renting them out to populations willing to live in groups, such as university students.

These investors buy up properties—increasingly single-family homes—with cash, making it very difficult for prospective homeowners to be competitive, Ridge-Martinez said.

Buying single-family housing in Allston had not traditionally been cost-effective for investors, making these properties accessible to prospective homeowners such as Ferrer and Robertson, Ridge-Martinez added. But an influx of 20- to 35-year-olds to Allston who are willing to live together and split up rents has made buying up single-family homes a much more lucrative investment in the neighborhood, she wrote in an email.

According to Melina A. Schuler, a spokesperson for the city of Boston, the switch to an investor-owned model was precipitated by the recent recession. Residents who owned their triple-decker homes were hard hit by the foreclosure crisis and often sold their buildings to investors. The recession-induced trend intersected with another, longer term shift in the Boston real estate market that has seen Boston become a center for investment in the last decade, especially for international investors, who approach sellers with cash.

Allston is especially attractive to investors due to Harvard’s expansive development of North Allston over the next decade and the high student demand from BC and BU for off-campus housing, according to Brian Swett, chief of environment and energy for the city of Boston. The neighborhood is relatively cheap and convenient, compared to others in Boston, for students hoping to live off campus, according to annual reports on median rents by the city of Boston.

Though these trends have brought Allston an occupancy rate higher than any other neighborhood in Boston, many Allstonians say they are concerned that rental units catering exclusively to students could lead to a community of mostly transient populations who never settle down in Allston.

“It is important for neighborhood stabilization for renters like me to find a home and be able to stay,” Robertson said. This is difficult when landlords market properties to groups of students, instead of young renters looking for a more stable community, she added.

“So long as we continue to have a very short-term renting situation, it’s going to be really difficult to get people to take some pride in the neighborhood or get involved,” Ferrer said.

INVESTMENT BUZZ

These community concerns arise within a neighborhood that is growing and changing demographically. The population of Allston grew 14 percent between 2000 and 2010, a growth rate almost three times that of the City of Boston as a whole, according to U.S. census data compiled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Swett said that the housing stocks of many neighborhoods in Boston, including Allston, have switched to investor-owned models. Only 10.2 percent of housing units in Allston were resident-owned in 2011, down from 15.0 percent in 2009 and 19.6 percent in 2000, according to census data compiled by the BRA. Swett estimates that number is even lower today.

He also noted that as of 2010, 75 percent of investor-owned property in Allston-Brighton were triple-decker homes, which have traditionally been family-owned.

Ridge-Martinez attributed gentrification in Allston to a general increase in interest in urban living as well as to the allure of Harvard’s development in the neighborhood, among other forces.

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