Walsh meets with college leaders on off-campus housing

Mayor Walsh met with the representatives of BU, BC, Northeastern, Suffolk and several other city colleges at the Parkman House, the city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Mayor Walsh met with the representatives of BU, BC, Northeastern, Suffolk and several other city colleges at the Parkman House, the city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said today the leaders of Boston’s largest universities have largely agreed to disclose the addresses of their off-campus students — a long-resisted step that he called critical to combat chronic overcrowded conditions that he said imperils their safety.

“They don’t see a problem with it,’’ Walsh said after emerging from an hour-long meeting with more than two dozen college officials. “Not one college pushed back.’’

The mayor met with the representatives of Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, Suffolk University and several other city colleges at the Parkman House, the city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill.


Walsh had said that if he met with resistance from university leaders he would explore legislative action to force disclosure of off-campus addresses through a city ordinance, a measure he said needed to protect the health and safety of tens of thousands of university students.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

But the mayor said he heard no objections from any college official, several of whom pledged speedy compliance.

“It’s fine. It’s not a problem,’’ said James McCarthy, Suffolk University’s president. “We’ll move immediately to get the addresses that they’re looking for. ... We appreciate the attention being given to this. This is important to our students.’’

Walsh’s session with college officials comes one month after the Globe Spotlight Team uncovered widespread problems in Boston’s college neighborhoods, where students confront living hazards ranging from rats and bed bugs, to smoke detectors dangling uselessly from ceilings, to bedrooms stuffed illegally into basements or firetrap attics.

The hazardous overcrowded conditions are especially acute in sections of Brighton near Boston College, where a Spotlight Team survey found 80 percent of the students questioned said they had more than four undergraduates in their apartments.


A city zoning provision prohibits more than four, full-time undergraduates from sharing a house or apartment — a provision that the Globe investigation found is widely ignored by students and winked at by landlords and their property managers.

After a fire last year that killed 22-year-old Binland Lee, a Boston University student, community activists called on city universities to release the addresses of their off-campus students to enable the city to build a database to detect dangerous, overcrowded living conditions.

Only Boston University complied.

Boston College said federal student privacy laws do not allow the school to disclose where their students live off campus, even though federal regulators say schools that designate addresses as directory information are generally permitted to do so.

Before today’s session with Walsh, Northeastern University said its legal counsel was studying the issue.


But Walsh said those objections were not voiced today when college officials said they would comply with his request.

“We’ll do that,’’ said Sister Janet Eisner, president of Emmanuel College. “I think that’s the sense of everyone there.’’

The mayor was joined at today’s session by Police Commissioner William B. Evans and William Christopher, the newly installed commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

Walsh has said he wants Boston’s colleges and universities to live up to promises they have made to move students back to their campuses and out of neighborhoods. Rowdy behavior and exorbitant rents are seen as disruptive forces for long-time neighborhood residents. They say the flood of college tenants into overcrowded units is rendering housing unaffordable to them while endangering young, student renters.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students living off campus in the city has soared 36 percent to more than 45,000 from 2006 to 2013, according to a Spotlight Team analysis of reports private colleges submit to Boston’s city clerk and data provided to the Globe by three public schools.

Globe reporters and correspondents canvassed block after block of student rental apartments and found overcrowding rampant. In a Spotlight survey of 266 students living off campus in Boston, nearly a third of respondents said at least five undergraduates were living together, in apparent violation of the 2008 zoning rule.

In addition to demanding the off-campus addresses from the colleges, Walsh has vowed to increase the number of city inspectors to check the city’s 154,000 rental units for possible code infractions. And he has said he will begin to levy $300 daily fines on scofflaw landlords who repeatedly violate city and state regulations but escape harsh penalties because of toothless enforcement practices.

McCarthy, the Suffolk president, said he expects a series of meetings to be convened in short order to determine how best to get the address data to the city. He said another meeting will be held before students return to the city for the fall semester.