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Northeastern aims to house more of its students on campus

Posted by Your Town  December 8, 2010 12:51 PM

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It’s an overlap of cultures all too familiar to residents of Allston and Brighton.

Mission Hill, which is in close proximity to Northeastern University and other colleges, has seen a steadily increasing population of student residents. According to Michael Armini, NU’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, there are roughly 1,000 Northeastern students living in Mission Hill.

While other, long term residents generally find the students to be courteous during the day, their late-night house parties have irked some neighbors in recent years.

“It's a rowdy loudness, especially for a neighborhood. I mean, this is not a college campus,” said Mary Ellison, a 15-year resident of Mission Hill.

Within the last few years, an increasing number of students have moved to the Mission Hill neighborhood for a variety of reasons– its proximity to colleges, reasonable rent prices, and a relatively low crime rate, to name a few.

The university is now taking steps to improve relations with the neighborhood. NU has decided to pursue housing more of its students on-campus, and also is implementing a program, dubbed P.L.E.D.G.E., which urges students to be good neighbors and warns them that the university will hold them responsible for off-campus violations.

Under the new program, if a student living off-campus is arrested for an offense, such as hosting an underage drinking party, he or she also now faces punishment from the school.

“Northeastern will expedite the judicial process for cases involving off-campus disturbances, so it is important that students make good decisions about the way they live in the neighborhoods surrounding campus,” the program description says. “Our expectation is that our students will live peacefully in our neighborhood as responsible tenants in off campus housing.”

Northeastern also is taking steps to increase the proportion of students who live on-campus -- currently about 53 percent of its undergraduate population of roughly 15,700 students. The university recently announced a plan that will require sophomores to live on campus. Armini said the move would increase the on-campus population to 60 percent of all undergraduates.

He said the move was a strategic decision by the university.

“Well, I’d like to be more optimistic and say we think keeping them on campus will help foster a stronger community between the students and the school, but it is a pragmatic decision,” Armini said.

Community residents from Mission Hill, Fenway and Roxbury met with university officials in June 2010 to express concerns about students in their communities.

“When we had those meetings, we heard two things loud and clear: First, they said, ‘We understand the economy, we understand the recession, but when are you building a new dorm?’ Second, they said student behavior needed improvement,” Armini said.

According to Armini, NU had planned to build a 600-bed dormitory several years ago, but cancelled that plan when the school could not borrow the necessary funds.

Phoenix Property Company, a real estate developer, recently purchased two of the three wings of the Huntington Avenue YMCA, which it will convert into student housing for NU by the fall of 2013.

The Mission Hill Problem Property Task Force (PPTF) -- a group of residents who work with local officials and area institutions to address problem properties -- reports in a brochure for new student residents that in the 2008-09 school year, the task force and another organization, 123 Contact, had a role in 104 student arrests and reported more than 350 disturbance complaints to local universities.

Sharon O’Sullivan, who works at The Crossing, a bar on Tremont Street in Mission Hill, said that students who come to the bar don’t cause trouble. She said the problem seems to be with students having house parties, not going out to bars.

“When they come here, they’re fine. They’re polite and mannerly,” she said. “We’ve been impressed with them.”

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism students Mike Brown and Owen Cluer, under the supervision of Journalism Instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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