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Gimme Shelter

City workers have to live in Boston, but with the housing market so hot, critics want that rule erased. We went house hunting with a firefighter to see just how tough it is out there.

This house on 76 Business Street in Hyde Park was on the market for $279,000. (Globe Photo / Jodi Hilton)   Dwelling on the Future
This house on 76 Business Street in Hyde Park was on the market for $279,000. (Globe Photo / Jodi Hilton)   Dwelling on the Future

The Boston housing market is on fire, and there is not much that firefighter Larry Rich can do about it. Since December, the 38-year-old Dorchester native has been looking to buy a single-family house in Boston, where the median sale price last year was $387,400.

He can't look elsewhere, because the city requires its workers to live in Boston. The rule, which unions aim to make an issue in the mayoral race, has exceptions for longtime employees and teachers, but Rich, a firefighter for nine years, doesn't qualify. "For the city to pretty much handcuff their people and hold them down is just not right," he says. Nonetheless, he's determined to leave behind his rental and become a homeowner.

"Being single, with only one income, it's pretty much cost-prohibitive for me," says Rich, who made about $66,000 after taxes last year. His base pay is about $56,000, and he is considering a side job in real estate to supplement his income.

He pays $1,200 per month to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Jamaica Plain, and he's looking at properties that would require a mortgage payment of about $2,000 per month. As a Coast Guard veteran, Rich can get a government-guaranteed loan that requires no money down. "All of the places I have looked at have needed work of some sort," he says. "I don't mind putting a little blood and sweat into a place, but if it needs $50,000 to $100,000 put into it, the total price changes quite a bit."

Rich regularly gets new listings from his realtor, and some of the properties go off the market before he can make an offer. Other times, he drives by a listed property and just keeps driving, either because the neighborhood is not to his liking or because the building is ugly.

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