Add it up, suckers

Taxi surcharges, rising cable rates, higher oil prices — it’s gonna cost a lot more to live in Boston in 2006
By DAVID BERNSTEIN  |  January 17, 2006

When you live in Boston, you may not notice every little price hike. But they add up. Slices cost an extra quarter at your neighborhood pizza place? That’s another five bucks a month. Cable rates go up three dollars a month? That’s $36 a year.

Boston is already one of the most expensive cities in North America, ranking anywhere from first to sixth depending on the study. Coldwell Banker recently ranked Boston College as having the fifth most expensive college neighborhood, Chestnut Hill. And the inflation rate is humming along at 3.4 percent, meaning that that tomato you buy at Shaw’s will cost that much extra this year.

According to a recent study, one in every 20 households in the Boston area is worth a million bucks — and that doesn’t even include the market value of the homes these people live in. Don’t expect Boston’s five-percenters to be crying over this data — they are a big reason companies think they can keep charging more and more for goods and services. But the rest of us are going to feel the crunch. So it’s our sad duty to relay the bad news that you’ll be working a little harder to stretch your dollar in 2006. No major jolts coming, but a number of little changes heading your way will spell the difference between buying that new iPod or sticking with the old-school Walkman.

Basic living
The good news: the rental market in Boston and Cambridge has remained flat, so you shouldn’t be getting any nasty shocks in your next lease. In fact, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development says that rents in Greater Boston have dropped nearly 10 percent over the past year.

On-campus-housing prices have bucked that trend, however — they’ve gone up five percent at MIT for the 2005-’06 school year, for instance. Emerson, with its fancy new dorms, charges more for those rooms than the average area rent. Expect that trend to continue.

Homeowners have the real problem, thanks to ever-rising taxes — and, thanks to that flat rental market, owners who rent will have a hard time passing the cost along to their tenants. The median property-tax bill for a single-family home in Massachusetts will increase 6.4 percent over 2005, according to a recent Boston Globe survey of cities and towns. Boston’s property tax is going up nine percent. But Newton’s and Brookline’s increases are much lower, and Cambridge is actually lowering its average bill by a few bucks.

Owners and tenants alike, meanwhile, will find their utility bills going up, thanks largely to the increase in fuel prices. Home-heating oil has jumped (about 50 cents a gallon), which you may have noticed on your most recent bill. That hit will become a wallop over the next few months.

Things won’t be much better if you use natural gas for heat. In fact, KeySpan just sent letters out to Massachusetts news outlets saying that the company is “very concerned about the impact natural gas prices will have on our customers this heating season.” KeySpan and NStar bumped natural-gas prices starting in November, which you saw on your December bill to the tune of an average $75 increase per month per customer. January’s bill will be worse.

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