Worcester’s Most Expensive Neighborhoods
Saturday, February 16, 2013
The online map Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks shows how development, sprawl, history, and the medical field have affected the city’s wealth distribution, and President of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, Roberta Schaefer, says that she has seen the city change a lot over time.
“Over the years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen changes,” she said. “It varies from year to year. What I’ve noticed more is the diversity in the population, much more the neighborhoods are more integrated. You’re seeing neighborhoods on the West side with more Latino and Black families when houses change hands. Of course right now the market is still in a slump, but the city has definitely seen it become much more integrated and diverse.”
Developing the Map
Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks was developed by Christopher Persaud, a data researcher with a degree in Urban Planning. The map displays a color-coded graph of where the highest and lowest rental rates are, as well as a map of average household income across neighborhoods, dividing Worcester into squares and hills.
Persaud said that while the New York Times has a national income map based on the 2009 American Community Survey, there wasn’t a website or app that displayed the data by neighborhood, or by rental fees.
He also added that using this way to show the data is more accurate than maps that compare across the entire nation. With this infographic, each state’s scale is different.
He said that some income trends seen in Worcester are seen in virtually every city – the lower income near the center of the city, and wealthier residents in suburbs.
“I wanted to see how that happened in every city – big and small,” he said, adding the interest in how cities are affected by infrastructure and highway patterns. “I knew from past articles I read on neighborhoods and city income distribution in major metro areas, that income tends to be lower in one part of the city, and the same patterns can be seen in Worcester.”
The Worcester area shows these effects, as the wealthiest and poorest areas fall in relation to I-290 and Route 9.
The wealthiest areas in Worcester are located in the Western side of the city, including Salisbury Street and West Tatnuck, farther away from 290. In these areas, residents see a median monthly rent of $1,054 per month, and average household income comes out to $89,844.
One curious result of the map’s rental figures shows an extremely high rental cost near Worcester State Hospital. The area rivaled West Tatnuck in terms of rent – coming in at $1,197 per month.
Schaefer says this is all thanks to the booming health industry in Worcester, saying newly built high-rise apartment complexes have no doubt driven up the costs.
These expensive rentals, she said are necessary for med students needing to be close to the action.
“We’re talking about people who are in fairly high paying jobs, who are coming there and wanting to be right near the facilities. Especially if you’re talking about residents who need to be on call,” she said. “UMass Memorial is one of the largest employer in the whole area, with about 15,000 people. These are also likely those people coming here and renting before they buy, as a transitional phase.”
The neighborhoods around Salisbury Street, she said, are commonly considered the wealthiest section of town, and the map proves that correct. Due to census districting of the neighborhoods, West Tatnuck also appears to be a highly affluent area.
“Out there, you’ve got the biggest single family homes on the largest lots,” she said. “It makes sense that the price of housing there is going to be the highest in the city.”
Supply and Demand
Another slight peak can be seen around area colleges, something Schaefer attributes to simple economics – supply and demand.
“There is the tendency to take advantage of a ready market with the students,” she said. “The rent probably gets jacked up because you’ve got three or four individuals paying, and each is paying separately. And the money is probably coming from their parents.”
Schaefer said that due to the amount of turnover and a shortage of housing, the demand drives up the rent.
Neighborhoods that fell toward the bottom of the list were commonly centrally located, and included the Shrewsbury Street area, Green Island, and the Great Brook Valley neighborhood. Although Shrewsbury Street and the Canal District are hot spots for nightlife and entertainment, Schaefer said that their growing popularity doesn’t mean they are good housing markets… yet.
“Those are not popular markets yet. Green Island and the Canal District – that area was always fairly modest rentals and old housing,” she said. “Even though the Canal District seems to be more popular as an ‘entertainment neighborhood,’ I don’t know how many people are attracted to living there.”
She added that the vacancy rate in the area may also be a deterrent.
Great Brook Valley, Schaefer explained, was built initially to house returning veterans from World War II, as a transitional phase.
“That was the beginning of public housing,” she said “The original intention was transitional, and that those people would be moving on. Primarily thanks to government policy, families are now allowed to live there generation over generation.”
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