I found it a little hard to write about rent in Camberville (mostly Somerville) due to the age of the data I found readily available. Additionally, it’s a heated issue. I–and my friends–choose to live here. We pick convenience over cost. Housing is the subject on which we use our energies reserved for being upset, angry, and frustrated over things we feel we can’t do anything about.

That being said, rent here really sucks.

Boston rent is the third most expensive in the US, according to CBS. It is beaten by New York and San Francisco. The majority of residents are renters. We don’t have rent control. The average rent for an average household is over $2,000.

Renters and Owners

The majority of Cambervillans are renters. Renter occupied homes have fewer people, on average, than owner occupied homes. I joke that this is because people are misreporting how many residents a given location has, considering how many people over the age of twenty-one I know who have actual roommates.

Somerville Households (2010 Census Data from American FactFinder)

Owner Occupied Renter Occupied Totals
Housing Units 10,395 21,710 32,105
Population 24,780 48,705 73,485
Average Household Size 2.38 2.24

Cambridge Households (2010 Census Data from American FactFinder)

Owner Occupied Renter Occupied Totals
Housing Units 15,235 28,797 44,032
Population 31,880 56,180 88,060
Average Household Size 2.09 1.95


These numbers come from Wikipedia, where there is a lot of ambiguity on the data. I should probably update it, assuming’s information is more correct. I have both. Unlabeled data is from Wikipedia. All income is gross, except when noted otherwise.

Somerville Cambridge
Household $46,315 $47,979
Household (2010, $64,603 $72,225
Estimated MA Take-Home (2010, $45,114 $49,881
Family $51,243 $59,423
Men $36,333 $43,825
Women $31,418 38,489
Per Capita $23,628 21,156
Per Capita (2010, $33,352 $48,509

I have been told that rent “should be 30% of your [take home] income.” This seems positively insane to me. That is ridiculously high. But, whatever, someone thinks it’s a good idea. Probably someone who owns land that they rent.

By these recommendations, a Somerville household should be paying $19,381/year, or $1,615.08/month. A Cambridge household ought to be paying $21,667.5/year, or $1,805.63/month. For argument’s sake, a Somerville household is 2.25 people, and a Cambridge one 2. This works out to a Somervillian paying $718/month and a Cantabridgian paying $903/month.


I apologize for my rent numbers. They are from Zillow’s positively magnificent rent data. I apologize because they are calculated from September 2014, as opposed to whenever the census was actually taken in 2010. Here are some new assumptions:

  1. Inflation since 2010 has been 9.2%
  2. Estimated Somerville household income is now: $70,521
  3. Estimated Somerville take-home income is now: $49,246
  4. Estimated Cambridge household income is now: $78,841
  5. Estimated Cambridge take-home income is now: $54,450
  6. A typical household is 2 people.
  7. Studio apartments are occupied by a single person earning as much as a household, but ought to cost less than a one-bedroom.
  8. One-bedroom apartments are occupied by 1.5 people earning as much as a single household.
  9. Three-bedroom apartments shall be calculated as 1.5 households, and four-bedroom apartments as 2 households. (Note, many people share their homes with either roommates, housemates, partners, or children. In the case of partners (or children), this could be at a greater cost.)

Median Rental Costs as of September 2014 (

Somerville (estimated) Somerville (actual) Cambridge (estimated) Cambridge (actual)
All homes - $2,300 - $2,550
Studio <$1,231 $1,500 <$1,361 $2,140
One-bedroom $1,231 $1,760 $1,361 $2,200
Two-bedroom $1,231 $2,200 $1,361 $2,700
Three-bedroom $1,846 $2,600 $2,041 $3,300
Four-bedroom $2,462 $3,200 $2,722 $4,200

There are some problems with my estimates. I mean, lots of problems. One obvious issue is that rent is usually less per room the more rooms there are in the house.


Tufts has 5,232 undergrads (~37% off campus) and 5,651 graduate students. MIT has 4,528 undergrads (~25% live off campus) and 6,773 graduate students. Harvard [College] has 6,722 undergrads (~3% off campus) and 3,871 graduate students.


I don’t know a lot about the actual makeup of Camberville in a “by the numbers” way. Rents in some areas are cheaper than others–by a lot. Both cities have significant populations of poor people (in each city, >10% of the population lives below the poverty line). A number of my friends are hackers, engineers, developers, etc. Glassdoor tells me that the Boston Metro average developer earns $85k/year. I know some freshman engineers who had offers for $90k+benefits. I have friends who earn $500/week teaching children. Graduate student/post-doc stipends in the area range from $8k-35k/year. Massachusetts minimum wage is $8/hour.

Possibly Interesting Things, Some of Which Inspired Me

Something Wrong With Literally Everything In Apartment.” The Onion. March 19, 2011.

Parker, Brock. “Report Warns of Rent Hikes Along Green Line Route in Somerville.” February 12, 2014.

Conti, Katheleen. “In Suburbs, Rents Soar As Vacancy Rates Plummet.” Boston Globe. April 24, 2014.

Kooker, Naomi. “Skyrocketing Rent Has Tenants Searching Outside the City.” Boston Globe. August 17, 2014.


Thanks to Patrick Engelman for pointing out it’s 30% of take home pay, not gross. This also led to me realizing a mistake I made in calculating expected rents. I apologize.

A note added about roommates/sharing homes with partners.

I’d like to acknowledge all my awesome statistician and economist friends who read this and gave useful feedback–leading to the edits.


The sky is dark and the digital clock in Harvard Square tells me there’s still a quarter to go until six. The roads are empty and a few people, those last, barely, and first awake walk down the sidewalk. Pairs huddle together. Two older women hold hands.

My long underwear scratches my legs for the first time since winter gave way to spring in April. The first cold morning has settled on Camberville, bringing with it frost clinging to fallen leaves and clear sunrises.


“When I was biking down, I went past the katsura and was like ‘yeah, fall’s coming.'”

“They’re changing color?”

“No, they smells like fall.”

Katsura tees smell like fall, a dark smell of honey, cinnamon, and dust. As their leaves prepare to die, they produce an excess of maltose in one last push. It catches on the air and carries down wind, following me down the path.


It’s 12:30am.

“You fucked my cousin, you bitch. You fucked my cousin. I’m going to fuck you in the ass because you fucked my cousin, you bitch.”

Twenty, thirty feet above them, I’m awake.

She says something, I can’t hear her.

“The wedding’s off because you fucked my cousin. I am going to call my mom. I’m going to call your mom. I’m going to call anyone who will listen and tell them the wedding’s off because you fucked my cousin.”

She says something again. I still can’t hear her, but I hear a whimper.

I find my phone and dial 911. I don’t hit send. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Maybe he’ll calm down. Maybe she’ll leave. Maybe they’ll both go away. Maybe too much time has passed and if I call the cops, they’ll show up too late. Maybe I’m waiting just a few more seconds to make sure I need to call 911 before I do so.

I’m waiting to see if he hits her.

Visionary Week Two: Give In

A few days in, I am going crazy again. Taking the T makes me feel listless all day. I wake up early, run every morning. I struggle to stay awake and wear sunglasses. I take breaks every five to ten minutes, closing my eyes as the world spins and blurrs in and out and the headaches make me want to cry–not from pain, but over how helpless I feel.

My boss and I sit down and we work out a schedule where I am only in the office for part of the day. I’ll go home, and then work more after taking a nap.

At work. I align things on my desk, so I can practice looking at them. They’re positioned so that if I focus with my right eye, things look one way, the object in the front covers the objects and lines behind it in a way different than when i focus with my left eye. I try to get the objects to align in neither way, to find the space in between.

Edges are blurry. NN tells me that babies have trouble identifying edges when they’re learning to see. This is a good sign, she says.

I didn’t want to have to need more dispensations for work. When I leave the office, with everyone else hunched over their desks, I feel like I am cheating. I am doing something I am not supposed to be. I sneak out. I don’t say goodbye or even acknowledge that I am leaving.

When I get home, I take a nap and then pace around the house like a ghost. I work in the stretches I can focus for. I pace. After it’s dark, I go running. It’s the thing I have. It’s the thing I can do. Every day I wait until the end of it, finding comfort in the knowledge that I’ll be able to close my eyes and sleep.


There’s a This American Life has an episode, for Valentine’s Day, that opens with a Harvard educated physicist relaying a story about doing the math to figure out his dating pool in Boston.

So you start with 600,000. Which sounds great, except that half of them are guys, right? And I’m only interested in girls.

He’s wrong.

So, let’s be honest, a Harvard physics student or post-doc is probably not going to date someone who lives in Boston (population 645,000). He’s more likely to date someone in Camberville (pop. 105,000 and 75,000, respectively). He might go to Medford (pop. 56,000), where Tufts calls home. Arlington (pop. 42,800) is also a possibility (in as much, maybe less, than I would say Boston is), but I add it for the sake of being thorough.

Now, let’s talk about his claim that half of his 600k people are women. He’s wrong.

M.’s Table of Wikipedia Data

City Total Population Men (per 100 women)*
Arlington 42,800 83.9
Boston 645,000 89.9
Cambridge 105,000 94.7
Medford 56,000 85.2
Somerville 75,700 93

*among people over the age of 18.

This general statistic (more women than men in the Boston area), has come up recently in conversation. Someone’s girlfriend moved to Boston. They broke up. “At least the dating scene here has to be better for her than [the Midwest].” Someone else considered that the last three men they had sex with were all from outside the area.

Because I like pushing numbers, let’s see some more. I’ve rounded to the nearest integer because you can’t date .428ths of a person.

M.’s Estimates on Number of Vaguely Age Appropriate Dating Pool For A Random Adult Assuming No One Is Married, They Do Not Mind May-December Relationships or Heterosexual Relationships

City Total population % Over 18 # of Men # of Women
Arlington 42,800 35.6 6,951 8,285
Boston 645,000 47.5 145,040 161,335
Cambridge 105,000 59.8 30,540 32,250
Medford 56,000 42.6 10,974 12,881
Somerville 75,700 58.5 21,339 22,945
Totals 924,500 N/A 214,844 237,696


Reviewing assumptions:

  • Everyone wants to partner monogamously
  • Everyone is into heterosexual relationships
  • Adultery is not an issue
  • Anyone in the 18-44 age range is acceptable
  • People are looking to partner only within the Greater Boston Area.

Based on these assumptions, 22,852 women are unable to couple. That’s approximately the population of Lincolnia, Virginia.

Exempt Parties

This doesn’t take into account things like married couples In Somerville, 32.3% of the 31,555 households (10,192) were married couples. This is where things are going to get kind of weird. Most of my friends live in shared apartments. SW and LR are married, but have two (unmarried) housemates. I also don’t know how many households are over the age of 44 (or under the age of 18).

M.’s List of Households

City Total Households % Married # of Married Households
Arlington 19,007 45.1 8,572
Boston 252,699 25.5 64,438
Cambridge 44,032 28.9 12,725
Medford 22,067 45.6 10,063
Somerville 31,555 32.3 10,161

Gallup estimates that 4.4% of adults in Massachusetts are gay. This does not take into any account how many of these people are men or women. There are people who are asexual. There seems to be a decent turnover rate in the population, due to the universities and growing startup culture, though that may just be a reflection of my social circles.

Personal Conclusions

It’s no wonder my female friends keep getting together with dudes who don’t live here.

Edit: 2,2945 > 22,945. Thanks, TR.