Repairing The Off-Campus Housing Condition

As the academic year wound down last May, The Boston Globe published a three-part investigative report on the condition of off-campus student housing in Boston. The investigation was sparked by the death in 2013 of Binland Lee, a student at Boston University living in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. Since the series’ publication, the city has made a concerted effort to force landlords to improve the living conditions in rental units across the city, so that renters have, at minimum, a safe and sanitary place to live.

The administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, has found that there is a particularly severe problem with overcrowding in these off-campus houses. In 2008, the city passed an ordinance—known as the “No More Than Four” rule—that limits the number of undergraduate students permitted to live in a single housing unit to four. In order to enforce the rule more effectively, the city requested that all of the universities within its boundaries submit the information for all students living off campus. Boston College initially declined, citing federal student privacy laws which forbid the University from revealing where its off-campus students live. Although the city is working to protect student safety and trying to help students, it is reassuring that the University is also working to protect student privacy when trying to meet those goals. One’s home address is personal information, and it is understandable that some students might not want that information to be made public.

The city did not, however, reach an impasse with BC and other schools over the issue—rather, the city modified its request, asking only for the addresses of all of the University’s off-campus students and the number of students in each residence, not their names as well. BC complied with this more reasonable request—and hopefully the student body will benefit, as the city will be able to enforce safety and sanitation codes more effectively in the places where BC students live.

This year, the administration is also taking strides on its own to improve the off-campus housing experience for BC students. The Office of Residential Life has increased resources and staffing for off-campus housing programs this year to educate students who will be living off campus more thoroughly about their rights and responsibilities, according to George Arey, associate vice president of Student Affairs for Residential Life. The office is also creating an online forum that will host photographs of the available housing units, so that students can get a realistic picture of what they are leasing. With approximately 14 percent of the undergraduate student body living off campus, these are important and welcome efforts from the University. For both the University and the city, however, these minor fixes represent only the first steps to fix a multi-faceted problem that affects many different people—the students, the universities of the city, and the other residents of these neighborhoods.

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