Fall River real estate boom: Over 2,000 market-rate apartments are in the pipeline

FALL RIVER — The national housing crisis is in the news daily, but a look at new and pending construction projects shows a boom in market-rate housing construction in Fall River, with thousands of new units in the pipeline. 

“From 2015 through 2023, there were 498 new market-rate units,” said Ken Fiola, executive vice president of the Bristol County Economic Development Consultants. “Planned developments right now, on the drawing board and in various stages of development, with some at preliminary stages and others at final stages, there are at least 2,111. Now if all of them come to fruition, I don’t know.” 

BCEDC does consulting work for some of the developers, and Fiola said the more than 2,000 market-rate units doesn’t include multi-family properties that have been scooped up by outside entities. 

Redeveloping the Academica Club on South Main Street just one of many market rate housing in the works

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Why is Fall River becoming a hot place to live? Location, price and access

One reason Fall River has become a prime target for the redevelopment of former mill buildings and new market-rate housing construction, said Fiola, is location, location, location. 

“Where it’s located is going to allow the city to continue to expand into market-rate housing and meet the demand,” said Fiola. “Fall River is a tremendous location, because you’re closer to Providence, you’re closer to Aquidneck Island, closer to Boston.” 

Data from the website Rent.com shows that, as of this month, Fall River’s rent prices are still a good bargain compared to Providence, where a one- and two-bedroom apartment go for an average of $2,022 and $2,275 per month. 

A sign advertises space for lease at Commonwealth Landing on Davol Street in 2021.

In Fall River, the average one-bedroom averages $1,675 per month with two-bedrooms averaging $1,942 per month. 

However, rent for a Fall River studio apartment averages a pricey $1,475, which is more expensive than Brockton and Providence. 

And with MBTA commuter rail coming in the last quarter of this year, people working and living in and around the Boston area are likely to look at Fall River as a place to live, especially given the development of high-end apartments. 

If you live in Quincy, you are paying an average monthly rent of $2,295 for a studio apartment; $2,787 for a one-bedroom apartment; and a two-bedroom will run about $3,212. 

“I think once Fall River develops enough of a supply, you’re going to see more and more people heading south for the lower rental rates,” said Fiola. 

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Work is wrapping up on the South Coast Rail station on Depot Street in Fall River.

How market-rate housing contributes to economic growth 

Fiola said there are three types of tenants looking for market-rate housing in Fall River: empty-nesters who want amenities and convenience to shop, restaurants and doctors; young professionals, many of whom work outside Fall River; and city renters looking to upgrade their housing. 

“Historically, there had been little choices for them. Now they have choices,” said Fiola. “I think the real driver of the market is once the rail comes in. From an overall economic perspective, the people coming in have higher income levels and spend more.” 

Unlike the landlords coming in and buying multi-family units and raising rents that many tenants can’t afford, “no one is getting displaced,” said Fiola. 

“Having said that, the more units we bring online here, they also free up some of these other apartments,” said Fiola. 

People when they move to Fall River “are pleasantly surprised.” 

“I don’t think Fall River has done a very good job of marketing itself, and there are a lot of misconceptions about the city, but when they get here,” said Fiola. “But it’s really the housing availability that’s driving this.” 

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A rendering from 2019 shows what is today the River's Edge apartment complex on Davol Street.

Some of the new projects  

Before tenants began to move into Commonwealth Landing on Davol Street in July 2017, most of the 100-plus units were under lease already for what was one of the first high-end market-rate housing projects in the city. 

Other completed projects, like Bourne Mill, Creative Class and others, all continue to have waiting lists. 

“A market-rate housing project on Globe Mills Avenue is developing 200 units in two mills,” said Fiola. “A project on Turner and Davol Street, they’re permitted for about 58 units.”

Monte Ferris, who owned and ran Swansea’s landmark Venus de Milo banquet facility and Empire Grille restaurant at 75 GAR Highway, was recently granted a variance for a property on North Main Street for 22 units, according to Fiola.    

The Charlton Mill on Howe Street in Fall River, once a textile mill, is going to be transformed into 40 market-rate housing units.

The Charlton Mill, on Howe Street behind Mitchell Heights in the South End, is slated to be transformed into 40 units of market-rate housing, and the former Academica Club on South Main Street was also purchased to develop market-rate housing.

Developer Alan Macomber wants to develop the Bank Street Armory into 37 units, pending City Council approval of the sale, and work has begun at the former Lincoln School to develop 24 units. 

As for new construction, at Four Winds Apartments in the North End, a 200-unit housing project is in the works. 

And with the Route 79 redevelopment to open about 18 acres of developable land, Fiola predicted that there could be 400 to 500 units of new market-rate construction. 

Just recently, a developer purchased the former Duro mills with a potential project that could bring 300 more market-rate units to Fall River. 

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