More than four? Get out the door!

by Beacon Staff • March 19, 2008

As Emerson and other colleges and universities around the city rush to expand their dormitories to accommodate a student population hungry for housing, apartment-hunting students may soon find the fences tightening around them.

On March 12, the Boston Zoning Commission unanimously passed a measure limiting the number of undergraduate students who may live together to four, echoing an unsuccessful 1993 effort.,As Emerson and other colleges and universities around the city rush to expand their dormitories to accommodate a student population hungry for housing, apartment-hunting students may soon find the fences tightening around them.

On March 12, the Boston Zoning Commission unanimously passed a measure limiting the number of undergraduate students who may live together to four, echoing an unsuccessful 1993 effort.

Now awaiting only Mayor Thomas Menino's signature, the law would place a firm kibosh on apartments that produce what some say are the majority of noise and trash complaints around town.

But some students are angry.

"I think [the city] needs to suck it up, and realize this is the college city of the world," said Eric Goldrich, a sophomore acting major who lives in Allston with seven other people.

"It has the most amount of college students in America, so for Boston to prohibit that is down-right offensive and absurd."

The law's proponents say it is necessary to stop delinquent landlords in previously residential neighborhoods from charging excessive rent from more students living in less space.

Rich Johnson, president of the Community Alliance on Mission Hill and a 1987 Northeastern graduate, said he rents the two bedrooms in his condominium on Sunset Street in Roxbury to students, but knows that other landlords could push for more leasees in a similar unit.

"I've had realtors offer me to rent out my condo, and they've offered me $4,200 a month, but it's really only worth $2,400, because they can put six kids in there," he said in a telephone interview. "I can only imagine what my neighbors downstairs would think if I put in six kids there."

The amendment would redefine the word "family" in the zoning code, legally limiting the term to include two or more people related by blood, or no more than four undergraduates.

Elin Riggs, coordinator for off-campus student services, said the ordinance may affect Emerson students who, unaware of the change, have begun apartment hunting or already signed leases.

"I can understand it from both points of view, where the city is coming from with trash and loud parties, in neighborhoods with large concentrations of students," Riggs said. "But also from the student's point of view, you're trying to save money, live affordably and live with your friends. The unfortunate thing is it sounds like a done deal."

The Mayor's office has in the past supported efforts to shift the housing paradigm away from high rent and occupancy student units toward living spaces priced to accommodate working and middle-class families.

"The proposed amendment would help to stabilize our neighborhoods by expanding the scope of persons who may reside together, and specifically excluding large groups of undergraduate students," Menino wrote in a statement to the Boston Zoning Commission dated March 12.

Boston City Councilman Michael Ross proposed the measure last December. Michelle Snyder, an aid to Ross who helped coordinate the proposal, said the law is meant to encourage lower rent and to attract a more diverse group of residents.

"It's become sort of a problem, because some families have been forced to move out of areas of the city because it's virtually unaffordable," Snyder said.

Johnson said he supports the potentially punitive parts of the legislation, to help prod absentee landlords into shaping up.

"I think the emphasis is really on the property owners, to hold them accountable. I don't think it's a student issue," Johnson said. "The goal here isn't to get all the students out, the goal is to bring a more diverse population into the neighborhood."