Written by Matt Rusteika
Letter to the Editor:
It’s not news that the expense of living in South Boston has become unmanageable. Average rent is about $3,000 per month. A home in Southie sells for around $790,000—a monthly payment of more than $3,600. That’s a difficult prospect even for a childless couple with no student debt, no medical bills, and no family care obligations.
I’ve experienced being priced out of the neighborhood myself, like dozens of other people I know. I graduated from Brown with my Master’s in 2011, and already there was no place for me in Southie. Rather than live in my mother’s house indefinitely, I moved into a place I could afford in Somerville.
I’m lucky to now be back home, raising a family with my wife. But I know the hurt and frustration of being dragged away from family and community by financial pressures beyond my control. If we’re serious about making room for working people in Boston, we should be considering how to tackle this problem at the root. Our cost of living is too high, and families make too little.
Transparency. We can’t begin to address our cost of living crisis without more transparency in the housing market. Look through the Register of Deeds website; you’ll find that many home sales involve an LLC, and often the owners of an LLC cannot be identified. Has a home been bought for use as an Airbnb hotel? Is it the next target for redevelopment? It’s hard to know. This opacity hurts our communities. As your State Rep, I’ll work to pull back the curtain on LLCs operating in the housing market. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Taxation. The rapid increase in housing cost has had a destabilizing effect on our community in many ways. One of the most egregious is that senior homeowners are taxed as though they bought a $1 million house, when in many cases they bought it decades ago for $90,000 in today’s dollars. There is a tax exemption for elderly homeowners, but it’s only worth $27 per month. Seniors may also defer their property tax payments until they sell their house or pass away. But family homes are the spine of our community in South Boston, and a $100,000 tax bill built up over 20 years of retirement would force many families to sell. For my part, I would be heartbroken if I were the one to sell the family house we’ve been living in for nearly a century. If elected, I’ll push for realigning our tax code to give seniors and their families a break.
Child care. Many young families in Southie are like my own: both parents work, but at least one child is too young for school. Ask anyone in this situation, and they’ll tell you that finding safe, affordable day care is difficult. When it can be found, it often comes at a cost equal to or exceeding the rent. This is a serious problem. Lack of access to day care keeps qualified women out of the workforce, exacerbating the gender pay gap. It also forces families from the community. Massachusetts currently provides limited child care subsidies for very low-income families. I want to see a study to assess the cost of expanding the number of people who are eligible for this existing program. I also strongly support the City’s ongoing effort to expand universal pre-K.
It’s our prerogative to decide whether people who don’t have access to a briefcase full of cash—in other words, most people—can remain in the City of Boston. I believe these measures are a good first step toward making our community more livable for working people. And as your State Rep, I’ll make sure they’re on the minds of every elected official and policymaker in the Commonwealth.
Matt Rusteika is a husband, father, 4th generation South Bostonian, and experienced policymaker running to represent South Boston and Dorchester at the State House. He holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Brown University and a Bachelor’s in Writing and Literature from Emerson College. He and his wife Katrina live on M Street with their son Simon and their dog Watson.