Globe Magazine

How Boston’s hot rental market is messing with young couples’ love lives

For cash-strapped students, the financial allure of sharing a one-bedroom with a romantic partner can be hard to resist.


Start a conversation with college students in Boston, and it won’t be long before you hear tales of new couples, dating sometimes as little as eight weeks, deciding to move in together. They know it’s risky, setting up house while still figuring out if they’re even compatible, but they do it because they feel they have no other good options in today’s rental market.

In 2016, rents in Greater Boston reached an all-time high of $2,169, surpassed only by New York and San Francisco, according to the Boston Foundation, which also reports that number rose to $2,952 in Boston’s inner core. These eye-popping sums, plus the scarcity of on-campus housing, can make the sudden shack-up seem sensible. If you like your partner enough to go out and split an order of late-night nachos, why not split the rent check, too?

The chance to escape our less-than-ideal living situations and save on rent is compelling my girlfriend of six months and me to consider cohabitating before we otherwise would have. She’s 23, I’m 32, and we’re both in grad school at Emerson. We live off-campus, like more than half of Boston’s 158,000 students, including 90 percent of the city’s graduate students. That’s according to the same Boston Foundation report, which says those numbers are “exerting acute pressure on rents” citywide. Our current leases aren’t up until September, but our landlords are following the common practice of asking tenants to sign the next year’s lease many months in advance.


I currently share a makeshift four-bedroom with three friends. (With permission from our landlord, we turned an activity room into a fourth bedroom and agreed to pay an extra $200 per month.) Even though my roommates and I are quiet and considerate of one another, our dishes stack up in the sink, groceries overflow from the cabinets, and the single bathroom sees constant use. My girlfriend pays more than she should to share a two-bedroom in Allston.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A couple could look to save $500 per month by splitting a one-bedroom, rather than each sharing a two-bedroom with a roommate. In student-heavy Brighton, for example, a single-bedroom apartment averages $1,600 a month and a two-bedroom, $2,100, according to Jumpshell, a nationwide apartment rental site. Saving a few thousand a year is especially appealing when you consider the average student loan debt for 2015 graduates in Massachusetts was more than $31,466, the seventh highest in the nation.

But living with a new romantic partner is risky, as others’ experiences suggest. When Kyle Oddis’s roommate bailed on the beautiful two-bedroom they shared in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, she wanted to stay. So in the fall of 2014, when Oddis was in her first year of grad school at Northeastern, her boyfriend of less than a year moved in, and they converted one bedroom into an office.

“I think both of us were hesitant about it,” Oddis tells me over coffee (we both teach writing at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy). There were stresses, she says, but “considering all the things that had been happening . . . our relationship was pretty strong.” She adds, “Financially and pragmatically, it made sense.”

It was “after we moved in together that things started kind of deteriorating,” Oddis recalls. Her boyfriend’s father had recently died, and she struggled to console him. Both worked long hours, and their “schedules were just pretty much opposite.” In December, only four months after he moved in, they split up and each took one of the two bedrooms. By January, Oddis was looking for a new roommate.


In mid-March of this year, a day after their two-month anniversary, 24-year-old Adam Berg and his girlfriend, both classmates of mine at Emerson, went apartment hunting. They met in class last fall and bonded over writing, R. Kelly, and Pokemon. Berg is living by himself in a one-bedroom on Beacon Hill and needs a dramatic reduction in rent. His girlfriend’s about to graduate and, Berg says, the only way she would want — or could afford — to stay in Boston is if they lived together.

Berg is happy with the relationship but admits that “for us to move in together, in September, for a whole year . . . this is very scary for me.” He adds, “I’d be scared if it ended up in a breakup, but I’m also scared if it doesn’t end up in a breakup.”

As for my girlfriend and me, we’ve struck a compromise: Come September, one of my roommates is moving out, and she’s taking his room. We think we’ll be able to manage our half of the bathroom schedule and clutter better than two platonic friends. And we hope that preserving our own personal space will help preserve our relationship, too.

Paul Haney is the nonfiction editor of Redivider, a journal of new literature and art. Send comments to [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.