Everyone in Boston Wants More Student Housing—Including Students

Student residences at 10 Buick Street at Boston University.
Student residences at 10 Buick Street at Boston University. –Bill Greene/The Boston Globe

If you build it, they will come. Or that’s what the City of Boston hopes, anyway, when it comes to student housing.

As The Boston Globe reported Thursday, part of Mayor Marty Walsh’s plans for opening up tens of thousands of new housing in Boston by 2030 involves bringing a bunch of students back on campus. Walsh’s Boston 2030 report recommends building enough new student housing to cut in half the number of undergraduate students living off-campus in Boston.

That, in turn, would open up about 5,000 apartments currently being rented by students, according to the report, helping to keep the city’s housing market stable as its population continues to grow.

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The idea isn’t fanciful. The demand for campus housing seems to be there. The Boston schools that have largest undergraduate populations and that offer on-campus housing—Northeastern University, Boston University, and Boston College—all fill 100 percent of their rooms, year after year, spokespeople at those schools say. The same is true of Emerson College. Other schools did not respond to inquiries from Boston.com before this article was published.

BC says its goal is to meet 100 percent of housing demand. It’s in the process of building more housing, and right now 85 percent live on-campus, tops in the city.

BU, which guarantees housing to students for all four years, houses close to 75 percent of its undergrads. (The school assumes some attrition every year, and has a few thousand students living off-campus, including more than 1,000 in Boston.)

Compare that to Northeastern, which does not guarantee housing beyond freshman year. Northeastern houses a little bit more than half, and has more than 4,000 living off-campus in the city. (Only UMass Boston, which does not have on-campus housing, has more students living off-campus in Boston.)

What all that suggests is that if the schools build new housing, they won’t have much trouble filling up.

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Perhaps because of that demand, on-campus life isn’t cheap. Here’s what it runs a student to live in the cheapest available dorm during the course of two semesters (eight months) at schools across Boston. (Note: These numbers have been updated from a previous version of this article to include the costs of dining plans, which are required at many schools.)

Northeastern: $720 per month

Emmanuel College: $1,385 per month

Simmons College: $1,717 per month

BC: $1,734.50 per month

BU: $1,753.75 per month

Emerson College: $1,762 per month

Suffolk University: $1,891.25 per month

And so forth.

Bear in mind, these are the cheapest listed options—in some cases, representing the cost for a student to share a small room with one or even as many as three others. Northeastern’s cheapest dorm, for instance, is the limited-availability ‘economy quad’ style.

On the flipside, the cost covers the convenience of being close to school. In the case of Emerson or Suffolk, good luck finding cheaper housing on Boston Common. Plus, a meal plan is not an insignificant inclusion.

Still, it’s expensive. I’m a good few years removed from college at this point, but in my day the cost of on-campus housing was a consistent reason students moved off-campus. Even in a booming housing market, it can be a lot cheaper to live in a four- or five-bedroom apartment in Allston (five would be illegal now, under city regulations) than it is to live in a dorm.

That’s anecdotal, though. The numbers from the schools seem to show that if there’s on-campus housing, students will take it—which suggests these costs just don’t matter from a ‘fill the rooms’ perspective.

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Maybe that’s because scholarships and financial aid can help cut down on this cost for many students, or at least make it more palatable by softening the blow of tuition and other fees. And yes, in many cases parents are paying the way, although a recent survey shows even rich moms and dads think the cost of education has grown absurd.

In the long run, perhaps more student housing could help deflate prices a bit—especially if schools partner with developers and don’t have to shoulder the construction costs, as suggested by Walsh’s report. It’s fair to laugh at the idea of any sort of education costs slowing, but the average price of room and board has risen at a much slower rate than tuition and other fees over the last 40 years.

So we’ll see what the next 16 years bring. Education and studenthood itself may look very, very different by then. But if things go according to plan, we’ll have a bunch of new dorms and those dorms will probably be filled.

And the people filling them? Well, same as it ever was. They or their families will likely be spending a hefty chunk of change to do so. But that’s part and parcel of going to college today.

Bonus: Walsh’s report included this map showing where off-campus students live in Boston.

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