For generations of college students in Boston, crowding into a run-down apartment has been a rite of passage, a lesson in sacrificing immediate comforts for education’s sake. Yet as rental prices spiral, and as the financial pressures on students grow, there’s a greater incentive than ever to save money by squeezing in a little tighter, into dodgier spaces, and hoping for the best.
The physical risks that today’s students assume in off-campus apartments can be hair-raising. As the Globe Spotlight Team detailed last week, some students endure bedbugs, rodents, and other hazards. Other units have unlockable doors that invite burglary or worse. In one ghastly case, Boston University student Binland Lee and her friends squeezed into an Allston apartment building to save money. Fatefully, her attic bedroom violated local codes. Lee was killed when a fire tore through the building.
Such an event is a disgrace in a city that owes its economic vigor to its status as the nation’s higher-ed capital. The current situation represents a moral failure by certain Boston landlords, who rent substandard units to a captive market of inexperienced renters. It’s a bureaucratic failure by city government, which issues citations that the worst landlords feel free to ignore. And it’s an institutional failure by universities, which enroll more students than they can house on campus — and then avoid getting deeply involved in the mad scramble for off-campus real estate.
More than that, though, the off-campus housing crunch is the result of Boston’s overheated market, where geography and politics constrain the supply of new housing, especially student housing. Price-conscious renters have no leverage. Landlords who don’t have to compete for customers feel no market pressure to upgrade their properties. As housing units come up for sale, deep-pocketed landlords whose business models involve skimping on maintenance, and packing in tenants beyond what the law allows, can easily outbid individual families or more conscientious investors.
In the short term, there are some tools that the City of Boston and local institutions can use to protect students and give landlords greater incentives to keep up their units.
You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month
Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.
- High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
- Convenient access across all of your devices
- Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
- Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
- Less than 25¢ a week