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Dorm surge drives housing construction to 15-year high

Boston on track to meet mayor’s goal of easing pressure

A surge in dorm construction is helping Boston to add housing this year at its fastest clip in 15 years.

New city figures released Thursday say Boston added just shy of 3,300 new homes and apartments in the first nine months of the year, with nearly 10,000 more that have been approved but not yet built.

That pace is fast enough to keep the city on track to hit Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s aim of creating 53,000 new housing units in the city by 2030 — a goal city officials hope will ease surging housing costs for many Bostonians. A key piece of their effort is easing a student housing crunch that ripples out through many Boston neighborhoods.


So far this year, construction has begun on nearly 1,200 dorm rooms in the city, the most in one year since 2007.

Walsh stopped by the ceremonial groundbreaking for one of those projects — a $60 million, 380-bed dorm that Emerson College is building at 180 Boylston St. — on Thursday to applaud the progress.

“This is a big part of our overall plan,” he said. “The more student housing we can build, the better.”

In many parts of the city, Walsh noted, students who can’t find a home in on-campus dorms are doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up in apartments and three-deckers, enabling landlords to charge more than many locals can afford.

With a student population that has grown by a fifth since 1995, it has become more and more of a challenge.

“We see it in Allston-Brighton. We see it in parts of Dorchester. We see it in Mission Hill,” the mayor said. “Every room that gets created on campus eases pressure on these neighborhoods.”

So the Walsh administration has pushed universities to add housing, setting a target of 16,000 new undergraduate beds in dorms by 2030, with 2,500 more for graduate students. That’d be enough to free up 5,000 apartments, city officials estimate.


But even with recent projects like the one at Emerson, along with newly approved dorms at Boston College and New England Conservatory, there’s not enough building going on to hit that student-housing target.

Many universities say they want to build more, but need to balance pricey housing development with other academic and staffing needs.

Now the city is also hoping to draw more private developers to build student housing in Boston. Privately built student housing is common in many parts of the country, but rare here — despite Boston’s nearly 170,000 students — because of high costs, neighborhood concerns, and scarce land on many local campuses.

City officials say several big Boston schools are talking with private developers about off-campus housing for their students. They expect plans to come forward in the next few months.

Sheila Dillon, Walsh’s housing chief, wouldn’t name specific schools, saying neighbors should hear first from the universities. But she said at least a half-dozen are exploring the idea.

Northeastern University has launched one such partnership. Its new GrandMarc Hall on Huntington Avenue was built by Dallas-based developer Phoenix Property Co. for $75 million, then leased to the school.

UMass-Boston is also exploring deals with private developers. And John Nucci, vice president for government relations and community affairs at Suffolk University, said several builders have approached his school with proposals, including the concept of a “student village” that would put students from multiple schools in the same dorm.


No deals have been finalized, he said, but it’s an idea that appeals to Suffolk.

“We would be open to a plan in a non-downtown neighborhood that would help get students out of private housing,” he said.

Laura Krantz of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.