NU housing study finds student impacts ‘nominal’

September 6, 2013
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Northeastern University (NU) students occupy 10 percent of market-rate rental housing stock in Mission Hill, but their impact on inflating housing prices is “nominal,” due to other larger and more powerful market trends, according to an NU-commissioned housing study released to members of the university’s community Task Force late last month.

That said, however, Mission Hill and Roxbury stand to gain the most from “proactive efforts to house undergraduates on campus,” the study says. The study is a draft and the final version is expected to be released soon and made available at Boston Public Library locations. The study examined only NU undergraduate tenants and not the hundreds of students from other schools who also live in the neighborhood.

The major factor in the Mission Hill rental housing market is its lack of supply, especially as the Fenway and downtown are expected to continue to add more luxury housing and residents seeking lower-priced housing move outwards and into Mission Hill, the study concludes.

The Hill’s “dramatic undersupply conditions,” combined with new, non-student residents seeking market-rate housing in the next decade, far outweigh the students’ impact on the Hill’s housing market, the study concludes. It claims that completely removing all NU students from the neighborhood would only increase the vacancy rate by 2.3 percent.

Vacancy levels would have to reach 7 to 10 percent to “produce meaningful reductions in average rent or sale process,” the study says.

That is larger problem than just Mission Hill. According to the study, the whole City has an average vacancy rate of under 3 percent.

If NU students were to vacate all units with three bedrooms or more, however, that would create a 5 percent increase in vacancy of those units in Mission Hill. That would push vacancy levels just above a “balanced market standard,” the study says.

According to the study, since 2010, the NU undergrad population in Mission Hill has increased 22 percent, with 509 new undergrads living on the Hill. The trend in favor of Mission Hill over the Fenway has been heavily influenced by the “rapid rise in rents and occupancy levels in the multi-family stock in…‘walkable’ neighborhoods.”

But “off-campus student numbers in the local neighborhoods [Fenway, Mission Hill and Roxbury] are forecast to return to pre-2010 levels over the next several years in response to both new dormitory construction and pricing pressures being exerted by adjacent neighborhoods,” which are spiraling beyond student budgets, the study says.

In real terms, by 2021, Mission Hill can expect about 300 fewer NU student residents.

Undergraduate student enrollment dropped from over 19,000 in 1980 to around 12,000 in 2000 and increased back to 15,000 currently, with no plans to increase further over the next decade, NU officials have repeatedly said. Since 1990, NU on-campus housing stock has increased from being able to accommodate 35 percent of its undergraduates to about 50 percent currently.

NU’s current IMP promises to increase on-campus housing enough to accommodate 75 percent of its Boston-area undergrad population by 2021, with at least 300 beds being created in the next 5 years. Accounting for non-Boston-based commuter students, that number would drop to 60 percent.

The draft study was originally planned to be released in late July, but was delayed first because of the April Marathon bombings, then due to inaccurate information provided to the independent contractor who created it, Byrne McKinney & Associates.

To accommodate the delay in the study’s release, the comment period for NU’s IMP has been extended to Sept. 20, and can be submitted to Gerald.Autler.bra@cityofboston.gov. NU’s IMP is available at northeastern.edu/masterplan.

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