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Olympic committee drops plan for housing spectators

Organizers of Boston’s Olympic bid are scrapping plans to house thousands of international spectators in the city’s notoriously shoddy off-campus student apartments after the proposal provoked an outcry from landlord and tenant groups.

While officials from Boston 2024, the local Olympic organizing group, have said all aspects of their plan are open to change, their reversal marks the first time they have publicly axed a portion of the proposal.

Boston 2024 initially told the United States Olympic Committee that off-campus student apartments in Allston, Brighton, and the Fenway would make for ideal accommodations for spectators coming from around the world to watch the 2024 Summer Games.


Boston 2024’s bid documents called for shortening leases from 12 to nine months for those apartments, freeing them up for the summer for international visitors.

College students typically leave during the summer anyway, the documents said, and “regulations would then be in place to support reasonable rates” for foreign spectators in those units. As envisioned, a private company would manage the rental operation, connecting local landlords with spectators overseas.

But after Boston 2024 publicized its plans on its website late last month, tenant and landlord advocates were alarmed. Atlanta had enlisted homeowners to rent their houses to spectators during the 1996 Summer Olympics, but activists in Boston expressed concern that the committee’s proposal to use rental units for spectators could encourage landlords to clear out families and older residents during the Olympics, not just college students.

“It’s one thing for me to rent my owner-occupied house, knowing I can come back to it,” said Carol Ridge-Martinez, executive director of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation. “It’s another thing to be a tenant and not have any control over it. You could be talking about serious displacement if you don’t manage this correctly.”


The plan to limit rental rates might not even be legal, tenant and landlord groups said. Massachusetts voters banned rent control in 1994, under a statewide referendum.

Asked to respond to those concerns, Boston 2024 officials said they would abandon the plan when they submit their bid in 2017 for the international phase of the host-city competition. With about 52,000 hotel rooms in the Boston area and 37,543 college dorm beds in the city, local Olympic organizers said they now believe they will not need additional housing.

“Boston 2024 included an option in the concepts presented to the USOC of using some of the underutilized rental student housing in the summer for spectator housing,” said Erin Murphy, executive vice president of Boston 2024. “After conversations with the USOC, we are confident that there are more than enough accommodations for spectators in the region, and we will not be pursuing it further.”

Doug Arnot, a USOC adviser who is helping Boston 2024, said the rental-housing proposal was not a factor in the committee's decision to crown Boston the American nominee to host Olympics, over competing bids from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington.

“I don’t know where it came from,” he said of the plan, “but it’s not something that will be contemplated or considered at all as either necessary or desirable.”

Boston 2024’s reversal underscores that the bid that they used to win the USOC’s blessing in December was, in some areas, loosely sketched.

Last month the Globe reported that vendors at New Boston Food Market off Interstate 93, where Boston 2024 is proposing the main Olympic stadium, said they had not been contacted by the group and do not want to move, even through Boston 2024 claimed in its bid documents to have “engaged all owners” of the land where Olympic venues would be built.


In its housing plan, Boston 2024’s bid documents also appeared to overstate the number of off-campus apartments that would have been available for spectators. The documents said approximately 100,000 students live in privately owned rental units in the city, but the city’s last official tally in 2013 found about 36,000 students living in 13,380 off-campus rental apartments.

Housing advocates questioned whether spectators flying from Germany or Brazil would even want to live in student apartments. A Globe Spotlight investigation last year found many of the biggest landlords of those units routinely violated critical safety codes.

“Even if it is up to code, the housing quality standards are minimum, so I find it hard to believe spectators from across the world would want to live there if they came here for the Olympics,” Ridge-Martinez said. “It just seems to me that would be problematic, at best.”

Kathy Brown, coordinator of the Boston Tenant Coalition, questioned why regulations to hold down rents, if legal, should be limited to international visitors.

“If they can do some restrictions for spectators, let’s see about some protections for hard-working Bostonians, as well,” she said.


Skip Schloming, executive director of the Small Property Owners Association, which sponsored the 1994 referendum banning rent control, said his group strongly opposed Boston 2024’s plan. He said it would be unfair to let hotels, restaurants, and other businesses charge market rates to spectators during the Olympics but limit the rents that landlords can charge.

“This is just picking out the landlords to put the burden on them, and they’re the only ones,” he said. “We have to make a stink about this.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.