The Urban Renewal City: Chelsea sees shifting home owner populations

A Chelsea street with mixed multi-use housing and older 3 story houses. (John Kraft)
A Chelsea street with mixed multi-use housing and older 3 story houses. (John Kraft)


By John Kraft

Many residents in Chelsea are looking at options for home ownership, but the price of rent still stands as an obstacle for people looking to move forward.

The city, which has seen extensive community development over the past few years, has seen more and more new residents moving to settle down in the community, stretching an already limited housing stock.

“I think what you’re seeing when the income is off and the rents are so high is that you see a lot of overcrowding. And I think that’s a huge issue in Chelsea,” said Marilyn Garcia, assistant executive director at the Chelsea Restoration Corporation, which helps residents to buy homes and educate them on the process.

The corporation hosts classes for prospective homeowners, but also aids in issues like mortgage payments, foreclosures and evictions.

Garcia said that when it comes to homeownership, there is a relationship between rent prices and the ability to buy a house, as many homes in Chelsea are two family homes.

Chelsea is unique in that its rental unit stock has a large percentage of local homeowners leasing parts of their homes rather than larger companies building large complexes.

“It’s like 50-50, said Garcia.  “There’s a lot of large developments, but there’s a lot of owner occupied landlords that continue to live in their properties.”

That ratio also complicates rent prices, as the city doesn’t rely on big apartment complexes any more than owner occupied renters, who are most likely trying to make mortgage payments.

“They’re going to say that the rents are very, very expensive,” said Garcia.  “However, if you tell the first time home buyer that’s buying a two family home, they’re going to say that they need the rental income at a reasonable rent right in order to complete the purchase and to be able to afford that mortgage.”

“It can be a double edged sword,” she said.

Going further, Garcia explained, “If the tenant doesn’t pay the rent, the property owner is possibly not able to pay the mortgage. It’s a ripple effect, basically.”

But Homeowners aren’t exactly the cause of rising rents.  One major reason, like many other cities in the state, is overcrowding.

“You see a lot of overcrowding. And I think that’s a huge issue in Chelsea and probably in the whole Boston area,” said Leisla Ortiz, a foreclosure counselor at Chelsea Restoration Commission.

“You have a two or three bedroom that you’re gonna end up renting out a room instead of renting out the apartment. So you’ll have two families in a two bedroom apartment,” Ortiz said.

And despite development efforts, overcrowding remains an issue.

“What we see is the lack of inventory, very low inventory in the area. Additionally, the lack of affordable inventory. So properties are at a price where some people are not able to afford them,” said Garcia.

And while some residents move out of the city in search of homes, there is a new wave of residents moving into the city, straining the already low inventory of housing.

“There’s many people moving into the Chelsea market into the homeownership market,” said Garcia.  “Additionally, we’ve seen a lot of families moving out to be able to purchase an affordable or a reasonable price within their budget.”

And despite a growing average income in the city, the state’s average median income for the city – based on the Boston metro area – is still unrealistic.

“The incomes are pretty high, but it still makes it really hard for someone to be able to afford the rent,” said Garcia.

And with obtaining homes, the corporation focuses on education and knowledge of the market to help people achieve their goals.

Among their programs, there are sessions on credit, property management and resources that people can use.

About John Kraft 4 Articles
My name is John Kraft. I studied Social Thought and Political Economy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and I’m currently finishing my masters in journalism at Emerson College. My reporting interests lie in politics and social issues and I strongly believe in following the money when searching for the truth. I one day hope to get into investigative reporting.