When journalists at GBH in Boston stepped up efforts to ask local residents about the most pressing issues in their community, one question kept coming up: Why are rents rising so high?
“There is a question that our people, our newsroom, have heard repeatedly. … ‘Why? Why is this happening?’” said Stephanie Leydon, GBH’s director of special projects. “‘Why all of a sudden is this apartment that I’ve been living in for ten years so expensive?’ So people want to understand the ‘why’s.”
Journalists began investigating the problem, and the series showcasing their work debuted this month. The multiplatform “Priced Out” project centers voices of marginalized Massachusetts residents, telling the stories of people facing eviction.
Over a quarter of all renters in Massachusetts spend at least half of their income on rent. Corporations increasingly own Massachusetts’ housing stock, contributing to the high costs, according to the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting.
Across Massachusetts, landlords are seeking to take advantage of the market by raising rent to soaring levels. Property values are burgeoning as well. From 2011–21, single-family home values increased more than 200% in East Boston, 150% in Lynn, 150% in Brockton and 100% in Worcester, according to U.S. Census data.
Leydon hopes that “Priced Out” will encourage new audiences to engage with GBH while fostering awareness of the complex problem. “[I hope] it broadens people’s understanding of what’s happening on a personal level … understanding the impact on the human level,” Leydon said.
In July 2020, GBH set out to create a “newsroom without walls” and to be more accountable to the communities it serves. Community listening sessions have been part of that work.
“That literally just involves inviting people from the community, the different stakeholders — whether they’re activists, whether they’re community groups — and just letting them come in and letting them introduce themselves and letting them talk about what’s on their mind and fostering a conversation,” said reporter Sam Turken, whose June 16 story for “Priced Out” launched the series. Based in Worcester, Turken is covering Dave Vespucci, a Worcester resident who has lived in his home for 22 years. Vespucci, 74, lives on disability payments and must find new housing because his landlord wants to sell the property.
“The more personal you can make the story, the better … because people will read it and understand that this isn’t just this one guy going through it,” Turken said. “It’s a lot of other people. And that’s also what we tried to do in the story. Even though I focused on this one gentleman, it was also about the broader issue that … there are a lot of people just like this gentleman.”
The coverage that makes up “Priced Out” will appear on radio, YouTube and social media as well as on GBH’s website. Along with Turken, three other reporters are focusing on areas in Massachusetts through the end of the year. The series will likely consist of a total of 12 features total.
“It’s just good storytelling to find people who are affected by things and to share their perspectives,” Leydon said. “And I think it’s just really our mission to make sure that we are capturing diverse voices.”
GBH is open to collaborating with other stations across the country on this project, as the housing crisis extends far beyond Massachusetts. Station staffers have begun conversations with others in public media and are open to hearing from any outlet in areas where housing costs are also a pressing issue.