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More than 1 in 3 Boston-area renters looking to move elsewhere, report says

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Can you blame them given the region’s high rents? Still, a good share of tenants are looking to stay for whatever reasons

A row of three-story residential buildings along a city street, with cars parked along the street. Shutterstock

Some 33.4 percent of Boston-area renters were looking to move elsewhere during the last seven months of 2019, according to a report from Apartment List. The site tracked its registered and unregistered users’ searches for new apartments.

Who can blame the more than 1 in 3 tenants with wanderlust? Apartment rents in the region ended 2019 as they ended 2018—or 2017 or 2016: as some of the highest in the United States. Various reports from the start of this year pegged Boston proper as one of the four or five most expensive major cities for renting a one- or two-bedroom; and other reports spelled out high rents for places such as Cambridge and Somerville.

What’s more, the same reports showed that rents have barely budged in many municipalities. Another Apartment List report, for instance, showed that the median one-bedroom rent in Boston proper was $1,710 a month as of January, off only 0.4 percent from January 2019; and the median two-bedroom rent was $2,120, up 1.5 percent.

The reasons for these higher rents are well-known to anyone who’s hunted for an apartment in the Boston region. Zoning regs and hefty construction costs have historically ensured a dearth of supply. A pricey sales market has kept that many more people renting who would’ve otherwise bought. The region’s population has grown by relative leaps and bounds over the past two decades.

All of these conditions and realities are likely to hold through 2020, meaning that renters should not expect much relief (and landlords should be happy). So having a Plan B is not a bad thing for tenants who can swing it. The Apartment List survey doesn’t delineate between those who merely want to move and those who need to get out yesterday. But it’s conclusions are interesting.

For instance, for those more than 1 in 3 renters who were looking to exit Greater Boston, the most popular destinations were Providence, Hartford, and New Hampshire’s Manchester.

Also, it should be noted that, by definition versus the one-third looking to leave, two-thirds of tenants were looking to stay put in the metro, even if nearly two-thirds of those tenants were looking to move within it. Another 37 percent or so were looking from outside the region, mostly from New York, Bridgeport, and Worcester.

“In spite of those high prices,” the report said, “Boston is doing a relatively good job of retaining it’s renters—two-thirds of apartment hunters currently living in the Boston metro want to stay there.”

Bully for them. What’re you going to do?