Mayoral race could affect on-campus, off-campus housing

Boston mayoral candidates John Connolly and Marty Walsh have shown support for additional on-campus housing at schools such as Boston University while out on the campaign trail.

More students living in on-campus residences could potentially reduce the strain on the market, which would make rental housing more affordable for families and professionals around Boston, said Raleigh Werner, chief operating officer and co-founder of The Jumpshell Blog, a blog about real estate in Boston.

“As price goes up, it creates less opportunity for people looking for affordable housing,” Werner said. “So, housing as many students as possible outside of that rental market would be beneficial in terms of helping the prices to even out a bit. So it sounds like they’re [Connolly and Walsh] both very much in favor of an approach like that.”

Werner said students in the rental market potentially increase prices because the demand for housing exceeds the number of units available. Fewer students living off-campus would make rental housing more reasonable for Boston citizens.

“Simply removing demand from the market, in and of itself, will be a regulatory mechanism,” Werner said. “… Because higher education institutions are unique in terms of the property that they own and can develop on, if there is an opportunity to develop new housing for [students], that will take pressure off the rental market.”

BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU provides housing for many of its students and has the largest housing system of any institution in the city. He said, compared to previous years, BU currently has the fewest number of students living off campus.

“The university [BU] will continue to have a supportive relationship with the city,” Riley said. “… Boston University is in the heart of the city and it’s important … The city wants to retain young people, young families and professionals, that is probably instrumental as well.”

Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, said graduate students also put pressure on the local housing market. He said while the total undergraduate population in Boston has remained stable, the number of graduate students has increased annually.

“[Of the] more than 50 percent of the undergraduate students who now are attending Boston area colleges and universities, little over 50 percent are living in student housing provided by the universities,” Bluestone said. “On the other hand, most universities, with the exception of Harvard  [University] and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], provide almost no housing for graduate students. Some 92 percent of all of our graduate students in greater Boston are living in the community.”

Bluestone said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s Housing Boston 2020 plan recognizes the need for an additional 30,000 housing units by the end of the decade. Both mayoral candidates have supported this plan in their election campaigns, Bluestone said.

“So what the mayor is saying, and what these two candidates are saying is … three or four undergraduates can usually outbid a fit, working family for such housing,” Bluestone said. “It’s driven up the rents, and rents have just continued to rise in Boston making it more and more difficult for working families to afford housing.”

Bluestone said the best way to alleviate pressure on the rental market is to have universities take out master leases for building additional housing for their students. He expects both candidates to incorporate this issue into their agendas to ensure everyone in Boston can find affordable housing.

“The university would agree that they would take out a master lease which essentially means that we guarantee that 80 of those units, 80 of those rooms will be occupied by our students,” Bluestone said. “This makes it much easier for those developers to get financing for these projects.”

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