Wed. Sep 27th, 2023
    The Challenges of Student Housing in Massachusetts

    Each year, thousands of college and university students in Massachusetts face the difficult task of finding housing outside of their campuses. With limited housing options and high demand, students often find themselves in a rental thunderdome, competing with families and working adults for available units. The Greater Boston area alone houses around 400,000 students, making them a significant market force. However, they are often seen as villainous, contributing to the scarcity and high prices of rental properties.

    The problem is further exacerbated by the lack of regional planning and data on student housing patterns. Municipal boundaries restrict the collection and sharing of data, making it difficult for cities and towns to address the issue. These factors contribute to the anxiety and challenges faced by both students and cities during the September move-in period.

    Boston’s vacancy rate is only 0.37 percent, while other student-rich areas like Somerville, Cambridge, and Amherst also have extremely low vacancy rates. These low rates result in skyrocketing rents, negatively impacting all renters in the area. A healthy vacancy rate is around 6 percent, which allows for negotiation room and maintains diversity in available housing stock.

    Universities like Tufts have taken steps to alleviate some of the pressure on the rental housing market by investing in the creation of new on-campus housing. However, the cost of campus-owned housing is often higher than living off-campus. Students are motivated to move off-campus by the economic advantage of lower rent, typically ranging from $700 to $1,000 a month plus utilities.

    While students have traditionally been seen as out-competing families for housing, the dynamics in certain areas are changing. Well-paid tech and bio-med workers are now exerting upward pressure on rents in areas like Cambridge’s Kendall Square, making it more difficult for students to afford housing. In response, cities such as Cambridge have required universities to build more on-campus housing to accommodate the demand.

    The challenge of student housing in Massachusetts requires a collaborative effort between universities, cities, and the state to ensure the availability of affordable and suitable housing options for students. Proper regional planning and data collection can help address the issue effectively and mitigate the impact on both students and other residents.

    – Boston Indicator’s Luc Schuster
    – Boston Pads data
    – Statement from Tufts University spokesperson Patrick Collins
    – Assistant city manager in Cambridge’s community development department, Iram Farooq