“You’re not just buying a home, you’re buying a lifestyle.”
I recently overheard someone say this to describe the Greater Newburyport real estate market. At first, I thought I understood it. Who doesn’t enjoy the beautiful beaches, our historic treasures and our tight-knit community?
But then I realized that there was more to the conversation. This “lifestyle” was the justification for the ever-increasing price tag to purchase or rent a home in Newburyport. And then, I felt confused.
I have the great privilege of working side by side with my neighbors and fellow community members every day. In describing my work, I sometimes brag that I get to see the best of humanity every day. In addition to the idyllic natural scenery and quaint downtowns, this common theme of neighbors taking care of each other is the “lifestyle” that I treasure.
So, what is the connection to the cost to live here? And who might be benefiting from this marketed “lifestyle” and who might be harmed by it? These are important questions.
Earlier this year, I examined the latest food insecurity data shared by our partners at Feeding America and the Greater Boston Food Bank. Across the commonwealth and even the country, food insecurity rates, while still too high, seem to be stabilizing.
But here, in our corner of Massachusetts, the number of our neighbors wondering if they’ll get their next meal or running out of food is up 10%. In Newburyport, alone, the rate is up over 15%, with more than 1,500 residents living in food-insecure homes. Those homes might have desirable addresses but the cupboards inside are bare. And the people living there may not be who you’d expect.
Kelly and Michael are raising their two young children. They both work full time and earn competitive salaries in their job markets; Kelly works in a medical office and Michael drives for a local distributor.
But, even with their combined gross income of $82,600, they still barely make it. After taxes and their health insurance premium, Kelly and Michael bring home about $48,000.
More than half of their take-home pay ($26,400) goes to rent for their three-bedroom condo. A total of $8,000 goes to after-school and summer camp for their two kids. In case you’ve lost track, after these expenses, Kelly and Michael are left with about $1,000 a month – to cover car payments and insurance, gas to get to work, utilities, clothing and groceries.
Kelly grew up in Newburyport and always imagined raising her children close to her family and putting them through the same schools from her childhood. Given their incomes, Kelly and Michael don’t qualify for any financial assistance or subsidies.
But, I guess the question is: Should they need to? Working, raising children surrounded by extended family and friends, being a part of the community that raised them – isn’t that the “lifestyle” we all want to be a part of?
The affordability of living in our area is the foundation of creating a community where families grow, generations look after one another, employers recruit a strong workforce, and neighbors can look after one another. “Affordable” should not be taboo.
Lyndsey Haight is executive director of Our Neighbors' Table and a contributing member of Social Justice Collaborators.