No discrimination against students

by Beacon Staff • March 19, 2008

Housing limits established by the Boston Zoning Commission

Our View:

The commission's ruling is unreasonable,As if dealing with real estate agents, landlords and sky-high rents weren't enough, students hoping to live off campus next year can add the Boston Zoning Commission to the list of obstacles standing in their way.

The commission has recently passed a measure stating that no more than four college students can live together outside of college dormitories. While the commission cites an increase in noise complaints and the general rowdiness of off-campus students, a punishment for violating the new policy has not been established, though many officials are leaning towards some kind of fine.

According to a March 13 article in The Boston Globe, a hearing at City Hall on the subject drew a crowd of over 150 students, college and town officials and ordinary citizens.

After the hearing the commission passed the measure unanimously, which had already been approved by the City Council. Should the mayor sign it into law, the restrictions could take effect within days.

The main proponents of the new regulations, mostly neighborhood groups and city officials, include state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez of Mission Hill and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

According to The Globe's article, many supporters cite rowdy late-night parties and the displacement of middle-class families because of students crowding into high-rent apartments as their main reasons for the measure. But these arguments do not take the college student's position into account.

When renting an apartment, the rates are the same for the space no matter how many occupants there are. So sharing a three bedroom apartment with six people would give landlords the same amount of funds as with four. And this increase of students does nothing to inhibit other families from renting in the same building.

If anything, this measure will backfire. Should no more than four students be able to live together, it will force groups of students apart, increasing the number of student groups searching for off-campus housing.

This would increase demand-as supply remains constant-therefore raising the cost of living in the city, forcing more families from apartments than if six or seven students lived together.

The neighborhoods' complaints of rowdiness are equally unfounded. The notion that the number of students is responsible for excessive partying is ludicrous. College students will have parties regardless of how many students are living together. A fifth student does nothing to increase the likelihood of an all-out melee.

Perhaps most importantly, this plan makes no economic sense. Many colleges, such as Emerson, simply do not have enough residence halls to accommodate all of their full-time students' living needs.

While Emerson and others, including Suffolk and Boston Universities, are in the process of building new dormitories in an attempt to comply with city wishes, they are not yet complete. More importantly, these on-campus digs are often significantly pricier than off-campus pads-adding another burden to students' already tight wallets.

So, in the meantime, students are forced, either by tradition or by the schools themselves, to find housing elsewhere. And Boston is an expensive place to live. It is only logical for cash-strapped college students to band together and live in groups, stretching the rent burden between friends.

These restrictions take too much for granted and probably would not stand up in a court battle; college students and landlords have the same property rights as every other citizen.

Given that college students comprise such a significant portion of Boston's population, the city should have thought twice before infringing upon their often-delicate living situations.