Task Force pressures NU for more housing

November 2, 2012
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Northeastern University (NU) Task Force members and elected officials are demanding that the school create more housing in its upcoming institutional master plan (IMP) to alleviate pressure on the Mission Hill housing market.

Mayor Thomas Menino also provided a statement to the Gazette that outlined his support of more on-campus housing.

“Mayor Menino has a long-standing commitment to working with Boston colleges and universities to create on-campus student housing,” Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) spokesperson Melina Schuler told the Gazette. “[Student housing] can help improve and maintain the quality of life in area neighborhoods, alleviating pressure on housing stock for residents.”

NU did not return a Gazette phone call by the Gazette deadline.

During an Oct. 18 Task Force meeting, City Councilor Mike Ross and state Sen. Jeffrey Sánchez, along with several task force members, told NU that its plan to address housing in the latter half of the upcoming 10-year IMP was unacceptable.

“It’s not a community process if you tell us you won’t address our business for the first five years,” Task Force member Scotland Willis said.

This tension is compounded by the fact that NU’s student population in Mission Hill continues to grow.

NU has 15,179 full-time undergraduates this fall, down from 15,521 in fall 2008. In that time, the number of NU full-time undergraduates living in the Mission Hill-area ZIP code 02120 has increased 56 percent, from 843 to 1,315.

NU is planning on creating multi-use spaces that include academic and smaller dormitory uses during the first five years of its upcoming 10-year IMP period. The university plans to add 1,000 beds over the next 10 years, mostly during the second five-year period, aiming for a 75 percent on-campus housing rate, a schedule and goal that many at the meeting found lacking.

“That means Mission Hill might not see housing relief until 2019,” Ross said at the meeting.

NU representatives at the meeting said that building multi-use spaces in the first five years of the IMP would suit NU better and would create swing space to accommodate other construction projects more easily.

The projects NU plans to build in the first five years include 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of research buildings on Columbus Avenue, a 250,000-square-foot academic building and a 150,000-square-foot addition to Matthews Arena.

“A lot was promised the last time around,” Ross said at the Oct. 18 NU Task Force meeting, speaking of the last IMP process. “We were hoping we would be in a stronger place” between the community and NU, he said.

Sánchez also wrote a letter to BRA Director Peter Meade on Oct. 9, outlining questions and concerns Sánchez still has from the last IMP. They include how NU has contributed to the growth of affordable housing in the neighborhood; NU’s admittance practices for qualified local students; and regular neighborhood meetings.

The student census, required by the City’s University Accountability Ordinance, is self-reported by educational institutions in the fall and spring semesters. It counts all students living on and off campus.

The count is reported only by postal ZIP codes, which do not exactly match neighborhoods. The Mission Hill count is based on the core 02120 ZIP code, though parts of the neighborhood and the nearby Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA) are in other ZIP codes, especially 02115.

An IMP is a comprehensive development plan that describes an institution’s existing facilities, long-range planning goals and proposed projects. The institution must update and renew its IMP periodically and must amend it whenever it adds or changes any project significantly. The IMP serves as zoning approval for all its projects. Task Force members hold an advisory position in IMP development.