NU Task Force debates dorms, ‘campus’

February 8, 2013
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Community Task Force members reacted to Northeastern University’s (NU) release of its proposed Institutional Master Plan (IMP), filed Dec. 21, by asking for several clarifications and explanations over promises to the community and the university’s student housing plans for the next decade.

NU mostly listened to comments, as the meeting’s purpose was for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to collect feedback.

Housing

NU’s goal of housing 75 percent of its students by the end of this IMP’s 10-year period was not wholly clear to Task Force members, they said. They said they were unsatisfied with NU’s definition of NU-controlled housing in the neighborhoods as on-campus housing.

They asked the university to explicitly state which dormitories are NU-owned or leased, and whether those beds are located on the main NU campus or in adjacent neighborhoods. The IMP calls all NU-controlled housing “on-campus,” regardless of where they are located.

“We’ll look at breaking those numbers out,” John Tobin, NU’s vice president of city and community affairs, told the Gazette this week. “Traditionally, universities have reported [owned and leased beds] in the same category.”

“We don’t lease in Mission Hill. All leased units are in Roxbury or in the Fenway,” he added.

As for the 75 percent figure; that number refers to students looking for housing in the area that year, which would exclude students choosing to live at home or away from Boston. The formula used to reach that number is the same formula used by the City and other colleges.

Tobin told the Gazette this week that one of NU’s top three priorities for this IMP will be one more dorm project.

“Now seems to be the time to subsidize on-campus housing,” Task Force member Pat Flaherty said at the Jan. 28 meeting. Flaherty is a Mission Hill resident and a senior project manager at Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services.

NU isn’t looking to lower dormitory costs, however.

“We’re always looking to ways to better market on-campus housing,” Tobin said. “But it’s not always about sticker price.”

Mentioning the benefits of living close to student activities and not having to worry about laundry, transportation or utility costs, Tobin said, “If you put it all on the table, we’re competitive.”

According to NU’s website, one year’s room and a partial meal plan costs $13,140. The Gazette compared that to online classified website Craigslist, and found that a room in a shared apartment in Mission Hill can run as much as $1,100 per month, though most are in the $750 to $900 range, an annual $9,000 to $10,800 expense.

Neighborhood Relations

Following a mention in a previous meeting, Task Force members asked about a proposed NU-backed community affordable housing fund that was not included in the IMP. A broader community benefits package, is included, however.

“It is our intent that the broad category of [community-oriented] economic benefits could include affordable housing on a case-by-case basis,” Tobin told the Gazette. “We didn’t mean to preclude support for affordable housing. We just wanted to make the category broader.”

Tobin also said NU would be willing to assist in a community housing study requested by Task Force members, but did not commit to taking the lead on such an undertaking. That study would systematically analyze availability and cost of living in the neighborhoods adjacent to the NU campus.

“Assessing housing costs is a complicated endeavor,” Tobin told the Gazette. “We’ll discuss it with the [Boston Redevelopment Authority].”

The IMP and other documents are also available at the BRA’s website at bit.ly/NUimp2013. The next Task Force meeting is scheduled for Tues., Feb. 12.