Lawrence facing housing crisis, report says

Property values low, rents high, new construction lags

A NEW REPORT suggests Lawrence is facing a major housing crisis, with property values low, rents high, and new construction failing to keep pace with population increases.

The study, funded by six public and private organizations, was designed to give policymakers in Lawrence a sense of key housing trends. On almost every front, the trends are not encouraging. Here are the key findings:

Only 494 housing units were built in Lawrence between 1980 and 2012, an increase of 1.9 percent. During that same time period, the population of the city grew 22 percent.  With population growth outstripping housing supply, one would expect housing prices to rise. Yet property values have remained low while rents have risen. The median sales price of Lawrence single-family homes is $188,000. The comparable number for condos is $75,000 and $200,500 for two-family homes. A typical rent is $1,100 a month. That rent amount would be affordable for a family with a median household income of $50,800, but the median income of Lawrence households is $30,509. Two-fifths of Lawrence households spend more than half their income on housing.

The housing stock in Lawrence is old and often rundown. The study said more than half of Lawrence’s housing was built before World War II and 83 percent was built prior to 1980. Because of the low property values, the study said few homeowners have sufficient equity in their homes to make significant repairs.

Subsidized housing units may be on the verge of disappearing. According to the study, 10 projects with a total of 736 units are expected to see their affordability restrictions expire by 2019 or sooner. Another five developments with 522 units will see their affordability restrictions expire by 2020.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The study says there is no “straight-forward supply side solution to Lawrence’s housing problems as building and improving more housing must be accompanied by significant improvements in residents’ income, access to jobs, and asset building.”

As grim as the picture is for Lawrence, the study said the city is not unique. “Lawrence, like much of the rest of Massachusetts, is experiencing an affordable housing crisis that shows little sign of abating,” the study said. It noted 21,000 Massachusetts residents are homeless, a 40 percent increase over the past seven years. The study also said 25 percent of the state’s renters pay more than half of their income for housing.