The annual student census, required by the city, has been restructured to show individual addresses of student residences. Before this year, it only reported student population by ZIP codes.
City officials say it will boost code enforcement. Student reaction in Gazette interviews was mixed.
The neighborhood student population count is required under the University Accountability Ordinance, created in 2004. It requires a census, self-reported by educational institutions, of all students living both on-campus and off-campus.
“Having the students addresses will help the City identify what housing is being occupied by university and college students,” City spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell told the Gazette.
When the ordinance was first passed, universities pushed back against listing specific addresses, citing privacy concerns. An October 2004 The Huntington News story, Northeastern’s (NU) student newspaper, cites concerns that Boston Police would follow students around in a “witch hunt.”
The requirement that addresses be included and distributed to city agencies was eventually dropped.
Four students the Gazette spoke to this week were unaware of the addresses being added to the reports. Their reactions to the news were mixed.
“Northeastern knows where you’re living for safety reasons. Non-student residents have to let the city know where they’re living. It’s not a big difference to [let the City] see where you’re living,” NU student Sam Glenday told the Gazette this week.
“What’s the difference? My name’s not on it,” fellow NU student Farrah Nekvi said.
But others were concerned about privacy.
“I think it’s too private to include addresses,” student Jinxin Ma said.
“I didn’t know about it. It’s a little scary. It’s something to think about,” student Erin Stockman said.
The change to include addresses starting last semester was pushed by both the Mayor’s Office and City Councilors Josh Zakim and Michael Ciommo, who represent districts eight and nine, respectively, Zakim’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kyndal Henicke told the Gazette.
The councilors proposed the new ordinance in the spring of 2014. Mayor Martin Walsh met with universities’ leadership in June and July and the new ordinance was passed in late August, while students were largely out of town.
Henicke said Zakim’s office did not reach out to student groups. A Gazette email asking if the mayor’s office reached out to students instead was not answered.
“We did not hear from many students about this,” Henicke said. “Mostly it was a higher-level conversation with the heads of the universities and the mayor…The new ordinance codified was the mayor agreed to with the university presidents,” she said.
NU Vice President of City and Community Affairs John Tobin told the Gazette that the university is perfectly comfortable with the level of privacy its students are getting.
“When the Walsh administration came in, it wanted further, more detailed information” than what previous versions of the census offered, he said. “They wanted to granulate it into neighborhoods and specific streets,” partially to see where future student housing could be built.
Tobin himself participated in at least five meetings with city representatives, some with Mayor Martin Walsh himself present, to address NU’s concerns. High on the list was protecting students’ names, a matter of privacy protected by federal law, he explained.
“The City consulted with us very closely before this version rolled out,” he said.
Though addresses are still not matched to individual students by name, each school now reports the exact addresses, including unit numbers, of each of its students living off-campus.
When the Gazette asked Farrell about any privacy concerns on behalf on the students, she replied that, “no personal information related to the occupants (students) is attached to the addresses.”
“As with any property located in the city of Boston, most information associated with these addresses is available to the public by way of assessing or the permit search database,” she said.
She explained that the addresses shared by the colleges and universities in the annual survey will assist the City in determining what properties may be in violation city regulations that no more than four undergraduate students occupy a single unit of housing.
“Any property found to be in violation will be inspected and appropriate actions will be taken,” Farrell said. “We also requested improved data to better understand the impacts that students have on the housing market and help us create informed policy.”
Henicke explained that the ordinance was revisited in part because of student safety concerns stemming from a house fire in Allston, in which one student died and 15 others were injured due to overcrowding and failure to meet other fire codes, and the resulting in-depth coverage of the issue by the Boston Globe.
“The issue of student safety being brought into the public sphere started a conversation of, ‘What can we do better?’ if we had this information, how could we utilize it?” Henicke said. “Even though they may only be here a few years, students are still our constituents while they are here.”
The student census is intended to shed light on the crowding of off-campus undergraduates into certain neighborhoods, especially Mission Hill. Mission Hill is home to over 2,000 undergrads.
The census only reports the student population of private, Boston-based schools—which means UMass Boston is not included, nor are any of Harvard’s Cambridge-based schools.
Some schools that are exempt report voluntarily anyway. They include the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which is a state school, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is in Cambridge.