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Boston Mayor Takes on Off-Campus Overcrowding

Digested From “Walsh Vows Off-Campus Student Housing Crackdown”
Boston Globe (05/08/14) Saltzman, Jonathan; Abelson, Jenn

In early May, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the city will levy $300 daily fines on scofflaw apartment owners, increase the number of inspections, and demand that colleges citywide disclose the addresses of undergraduate students living off campus. The three measures are designed to safeguard the health and safety of tens of thousands of university students. Walsh remarked, "My concern is the life of every young college student living off campus in overcrowded apartments."

His announcement followed on the heals of a Boston Globe investigation, which found that illegally overcrowded apartments riddle Beantown's various college neighborhoods. More and more students are seeking off-campus apartments because local universities admit more students than they can house. Walsh, meanwhile, has vowed to hire more inspectors to regularly check Boston's approximately 154,000 rental units for potential code violations.  

The Globe articles uncovered widespread problems in Allston, Brighton, Fenway, and Mission Hill. In those four areas, researchers found that students were living with a number of indignities and hazards, ranging from rodent and pest infestations to doors without working locks to missing smoke detectors. In some instances, bedrooms were found to be crammed illegally into basements or firetrap attics. The mayor also plans to meet soon with representatives of all the colleges in Boston to insist that they not only turn over addresses of undergraduates living off campus, but also review university expansion plans and make them live up to promises to move students out of the neighborhoods and onto campus.

Providing the addresses of students living off campus will help city officials to more readily detect cases of overcrowding, which is defined by a zoning rule as more than four full-time undergraduates sharing a single apartment or house. If the colleges do not comply, Walsh said, he will consider taking legislative action "to make it happen" via a city ordinance. In a Globe poll of 266 students living in off-campus housing throughout Boston, almost 33 percent of respondents said at least five undergraduates were living together in apparent violation of a 2008 city zoning rule. In sections of Brighton near Boston College, where most juniors are not provided on-campus housing, a whopping four-fifths of the students surveyed said they had more than four undergraduates in their apartments.

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