SNN: Possible Crackdown on Overcrowded Student Apartments
SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Tufts University may soon have to provide the City of Somerville with a list of all students living in off-campus housing, some of whom may be breaking city law.
The recently proposed “University Accountability” ordinance, drafted by Alderman Bill White and based on a similar law in the City of Boston, is aimed at helping the city crack down on residences in the area with more than four unrelated persons living together in one housing unit, a violation of the city’s Zoning Ordinance.
“It really is a way, I think, to cut down on a practice that’s impacting a lot of folks, especially with Tufts students surrounding them where you have a lot of overcrowding, illegal rentals,” White explained during the August 28 Board of Alderman meeting where the board voted unanimously to send the proposed ordinance to the Legislative Committee.
Alderman-at-Large Mary Jo Rossetti was a co-sponsor of the bill.
“We’ve been talking about concerns of students for years, let’s be honest,” Rossetti said.
Ward 5 Mark Neidergang reminded the Board of the fire last year that killed a Boston University student and injured several others in an overcrowded student apartment.
Citing the high rents in Somerville, the alderman said “it could happen [at Tufts], with the kind of overcrowding that students will feel compelled to do if there’s not strict regulation.”
White added that overcrowding can also drive up property values.
“A lot of absentee landlords are buying property in the Tufts area for rental purposes. They’re paying a higher value for those because they figure if they can rent to five or six students on each floor; it’s going to be a cash machine for them,” he said.
“They pay a higher amount and then that brings up the property values in the surrounding area, and then when folks get hit with their taxes the next year, their taxes have gone up,” he added.
Rossetti warned that there was a lot of pushback against the passing of the original ordinance in Boston, which could translate into resistance in Somerville.
None of a half-dozen Tufts students queried by Somerville Neighborhood News recently knew about the city ordinance stating that no more than four unrelated people could share an apartment. They also said they were unaware of the proposed ordinance, and had varied opinions about its potential passing.
“Rent is not the cheapest around here and for a lot of families or students who are on financial aid or who have special financial needs like myself, it can be a little hindering,” Melissa Hwang said.
In addition to the high rents, students brought up the lack of sufficient on-campus housing and the issue of student privacy.
“A lot of these off-campus places, although they might not be abiding by Massachusetts law, really help out students who aren’t able to get housing from the university, so I sense that there might be some pushback from students if that goes into place,” Adiel Pollydore noted.
According to the Boston Globe, about two-thirds of Tufts students live off-campus. Of 10,000 students tallied in 2012, 6,491 students were not in dorms, the newspaper reported recently.
Some students thought that for safety reasons, the ordinance was still a good idea.
“I think that’s good. It’s good to enforce the law and it helps to keep everybody safe and keeps things going good,” Jonathan Kuwada said.
The proposed ordinance does not state penalties for students or landlords who are violating housing code, nor does it state any penalties for educational institutions that do not do the required reporting.
It states that all universities and colleges will be required to send a report of students in violation of city zoning law to the Clerk of the City. The report will then be forwarded to the Mayor of the City and the Superintendent of the Office of Inspectional Services.