A Nice Place To Live, But Wouldn't Want To Work Here

Nov 26, 2013

New Hampshire is a small state with a small job market, leading some 80,000 Granite Staters to commute to work south of the border.

The reason for all that interstate traffic isn't simply because more jobs are there, but also because the more affordable housing is here.

On a Monday afternoon, Robin Dumas is waiting at Boston's South Station for a commuter bus up to New Hampshire. She's a Massachusetts native, but says she's lived in the Granite State since the 1980s, and has been commuting to work here ever since.

“We were looking to buy a house, my husband and I,” she recalls. “Couldn't afford anything in Massachusetts, so all of a sudden one night he said, 'We're moving to Derry!' I'm like, 'Okay!' We've been there ever since.”

“I love New Hampshire,” Dumas adds. “Really didn't want to come across the border again, didn't want to come down here, but there wasn't any work for me in my area.”

For the passengers lining up here for the Boston Express bus line, which goes up I-93 through southern New Hampshire, that's a common story.

Tara Inglese moved to New Hampshire six years ago, but kept her job as an office manager in Boston's financial district. “We were looking for a house for a while in Massachusetts, and we found it a little too expensive, so we moved up, and there's nothing in New Hampshire that would give me what I get now,” she says. “So, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Lynne Falzarano, a legal assistant who is also from Massachusetts, found the same thing. “I think you just get more house for your money up there than you do down here,” she says.

And the numbers do bear that out. In 2012 the average price of a single family home in southern NH was $237,000. In Greater Boston it was $400,000.

Salaries tend to be higher around Boston, too. Of course, some of that better pay does stay in Massachusetts. In 2011, Granite Staters paid 6 billion in Massachusetts income taxes.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but even David Yunker, the only New Hampshire native I could find in this commuter crowd, says it’s a tradeoff that makes sense for him. “Oh, it's far better to be working in Boston than it is in New Hampshire,” he says.

But not everyone is so comfortable with the situation. Geoff MacAdie is a financial manager for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing organization. And he's lived in New Hampshire for the last 13 years. “Basically, housing prices in Massachusetts drove me out of the state,” he explains.

During his 13 years as a commuter, MacAdie says things have gotten worse: “It's now become a 3-and-a-half to 4-hour a day proposition.”

MacAdie blames the longer commuter on more commuters, and a transportation system that hasn’t kept pace. “More people commuting, more single people in cars, no rail access from southern New Hampshire, which is ridiculous, and the Big Dig effectively moved the congestion out between Woburn and 95,” he says.

On the other hand, MacAdie says you can see all that traffic as a positive economic indicator.

None of this makes the trip to work any easier, but as MacAadie notes, one good thing about riding the bus is there are always others to commiserate with: “If you ride the same bus everyday you see the same faces, and there's a sort of camaraderie in shared misery.”

Still, these commuters say it's worth the misery to live in New Hampshire, where living is comparatively cheap, and work in Boston, where pay is good.