Zoning Law Change Limits Number of Students Who Can Share an Apartment
By Jeff Reinhardt
On December 12th the Boston City Council passed a petition to change Boston zoning laws to make it illegal for more than four undergraduate and graduate students to share the same apartment. The law still has to be passed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and go through the Zoning Committee before it can be implemented. Since January 8th when both organizations reopened after the holidays, this proposal has been one of the foremost tasks for the new year.
Such a drastic measure, which changes the basic right of people to share living space, is certainly going to face legal challenges from both students and real estate companies. Still, there has yet to be much public outcry or support for the measure, which is a necessary element if the zoning law was to be changed eventually. The Zoning Commission, the final step of the process, specifically requires public approval through public hearings.
When news of the measure first arose on December 12th, it was thought by many to be targeted at curbing the loud parties and public nuisances caused by some students who occupy large houses and disturb their neighbors. But ,according to City Councilor Michael Ross, who sponsored the bill, the real reason for changing the law would be to curb the “bad economics” caused by the student real
“Students themselves are really prey to the real estate market,” said Ross. Everyone knows how expensive it is to live in Boston, and as students look for the cheapest deals, once affordable family-houses are marked up considerably because there are more people living in the space. Many students though, are unable to afford to live with fewer people. This will have to be addressed in the coming months, if the bill is going to pass.
The current law allots 250 square-feet per person to live in an apartment. Thus, a 2500 square-foot apartment, that was once inhabited by a family o four, could be sold as a unit to house ten people.
“A house that was once worth 400,000 dollars, is now being valued at over a million, an unheard of cost,” said Ross. “No family, no professional, no single can compete against that type of economics. It is strip mining the community for any value.”
The law would in effect change the definition of “family” in the Boston zoning code to exclude unrelated university students from that category. “The definition of family hasn’t changed in the hundred years since it was written,” said Ross, who sees the definition as sorely outdated and leading cause of the “bad economics.”
The need for change has been spurred by Boston’s ever expanding student population. With the constant influx of students into Boston and the lack of on-campus housing that is found at many major universities in the city, many students are forced to live in off-campus apartments.
In recent weeks, big universities including Boston College and Boston University have passed budget proposals to bring large amounts of students back onto the campuses and away from family neighborhoods. UMASS Boston, currently a commuter-only school, has also announced plans to incorporate student housing into its campus
Mayor Tom Menino has spoken out for universities to move more of their student bodies back onto campuses and supported many of the fiscal decisions made in recent weeks.
Even as these universities bring more students back onto campus, the universities themselves are expanding beyond their previous limits, taking away space and tax-revenue from the city. “The universities in Boston, they’re all improving,” said Ross, noting several accomplishments in academia. But as these improvements come about, and more college students flock to Boston, the issue of student housing is sure to be prevalent in city politics.
Other articles by Jeff Reinhardt.