Like many others in Boston, I made this year’s September 1st move. My new apartment is an oversized studio overlooking the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, across the street from the Public Garden—an enviable location to some. Top floor views, elevator building, dog-friendly; it checks off a lot of boxes for many struggling renters. But, for me, it’s bittersweet.
Prior to my move, I’d spent months searching for apartments. Hundreds of emails were sent and then seemingly lost into the digital void. Those that actually received responses were usually along the lines of “This unit has been rented” or “Sorry, no dogs.”
I spent every morning scouring new listings and sending out inquiries. Checking my email became an obsession. I was becoming desperate and the realization that I wasn’t going to be able to live in the North End anymore started to settle in.
For me, my deep love for the North End all started in 2016 with a man named Mo, and the tiny restaurant; Dino’s. When I stepped foot into the building on one of the North End’s most recognizable intersections, it was my first visit to the neighborhood.
Mo’s face lit up when he heard that I was apartment searching in the area. “We could be neighbors!” he exclaimed. His excitement was palpable when he talked about the North End and I couldn’t help but smile back at him as he told me all the things I’d been missing all these years.
I ordered my pasta, took my drink from the refrigerator, and sat down at the window to sip on my soda. Then an unexpected phone call was telling me that, if I hurried, I could be the first to view a freshly listed unit. I explained to Mo the situation, offered to pay for my food and return afterward, when he waved his hand nonchalantly and said, “Go, you’ll come back.” Astonished, I left, unpaid-for-soda in hand.
This encounter would be one of many to set the scene for what living in the North End would be like. A tucked away gem, right on the outskirts of bustling downtown, the neighborhood is so unlike anything I’ve experienced in other cities. It’s a small hometown feel in the middle of a thriving city, where everything has seemingly been untouched as the world around it progressed and modernized.
Many evenings, from my window, I would hear random parades pass on the street below. Oftentimes I stumbled into reenactments of historical events. The same residents could be found, like clockwork, on their stoops every day. Shop owners started to recognize my dog and I on our daily walks, gesturing us inside so they could spoil him with dog treats. Familiar faces were soon found around every corner.
Finding affordable housing in Boston has never been easy. Moving into an apartment can easily set someone back thousands of dollars. And dog-friendly? Most realtors will have a hard time not to scoff in your face at the mention of it.
Airbnb hasn’t exactly made things any easier. The reason I moved to the North End in the first place was spurred by the impending sale of the entire apartment building where I was living Downtown, which occurred in 2017 when Hoffman Companies acquired the property from Thibeault Development. That property is currently master leased to Sonder, a short-term housing operator with Airbnb listings across the world. But this year, the apartment search wasn’t proving to just be unbearable; it was impossible. My search started back in March with me looking at multiple units weekly to no avail.
The North End has long been a tourist destination with multiple stops along the Freedom Trail. However, to capitalize on this foot traffic, the rental market was quickly overtaken with Airbnb rentals. Stories from friends in the area soon became commonplace occurrences. Fire alarms being set off weekly, entire buildings hosting only Airbnb rentals, suitcases cluttering up their front doors.
Inside Airbnb, an independent and non-commercial set of tools, easily offers insight into how many units have been listed on Airbnb in your neighborhood. According to their data from July 2019, 248 listings existed in the North End with 93.1% being entire homes/apartments. Many of the profiles also had multiple listings on the site.
So now I live in the Back Bay, which I feel incredibly grateful for. But I already miss the North End greatly. There’s no Bova’s for my late-night sweet tooth. I won’t be greeted by Mo smoking outside his restaurant on my way to the T. No more smell of Theo’s wafting in through my open window. I know the North End isn’t gone forever for me but I’ll miss all of those familiar faces.
Alyssa Nations is a (former) North End resident and writer for NorthEndWaterfront.com, now living in Back Bay.
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