Feeling the Squeeze: Professor gets priced out of Cambridge apartment

When Bryan Bryson’s landlord wanted to raise the rent, the landlord argued that if Bryson could not tolerate the increase rate he will find other tenants who can.

“That was his negotiation tactic,” said Bryson, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and soon-to-be faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Biological Engineering department.

At the time, Bryson was a graduate student and was paying $2,100 a month for his Cambridge apartment. Even with two jobs, rent consumed more than 30 percent of his income. He went from three to four roommates to help defray costs, but sharing a one-bathroom apartment with so many people was a challenge.

The landlord threatened to increase the rent to $3,100 and Bryson’s mother suggested that he buy a house instead, arguing that his monthly rent is commensurate to a mortgage payment.

“That (thought) terrified me,” Bryson said. As a 25-year-old at the time, the idea of putting almost all his savings into a down-payment for a house was inconceivable.

Eventually Bryson decided buying a home would be a wise investment and discovered that he qualified for the first-time homebuyer program, which allowed him to put down zero percent and gave him a good interest rate. The program had a maximum purchase price, however, so Bryson could only buy houses in certain neighborhoods.

As Bryson began searching, his offers were repeatedly rejected. Some buyers would look at a house, walk out, and minutes later make an offer — often at 10 to 15 percent above the asking price. Bryson eventually purchased his current house in Dorchester for more than the asking price, which he almost lost to another bidder who offered the same amount.

“I honestly wish I bought my house when I first moved to Massachusetts,” said Bryson, a native of Houston. The house has since appreciated significantly in value, meaning his neighborhood is now likely out of reach from many first-time homebuyers.

While things ended well for him, Bryson said, he fears his story is unique.

“I see the same things happening now … we’re on the same path,” he said, noting that housing is becoming more expensive in Dorchester and people are getting priced out of the neighborhood and have few options for stable housing.

Bryson appreciates that his current home is a short subway ride to work at MIT and that groceries and cultural amenities are accessible to him. Everyone should be able to access these options, Bryson said.

“Everybody deserves to live in a vibrant, walkable community,” Bryson said. “What it costs to put down roots (is not attainable to all). You’re pricing out this generation to be able to feel a sense of permanence.”

If you agree that everybody deserves to live in a vibrant and walkable community, sign the Great Neighborhoods petition, here.

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