The first phase of Tufts’ latest addition to on-campus housing, the conversion of a set of university-owned wood frame houses, launches this fall. The new development, known as CoHo, will add 45 single rooms to the existing campus housing options, according to the Student Affairs website.
The rollout of CoHo is divided into three phases, according to the website. The second phase, which will open up 39 additional beds, will be ready for occupation by spring semester. The third and final phase will be completed by next fall and will add 56 beds.
The Idea of CoHo
Former Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate President Benya Kraus (LA ’18) was involved with a Tufts Urban Planning and Development (UEP) field project to program the new houses.
“[Tufts] got grad students to…act as consultants on the programmatic vision for what CoHo should be,” Kraus said in a phone interview with the Daily.
She added that the name CoHo, short for Community Housing, was picked using the input of students to embody this spirit of community.
Kraus said that the students in the field project concluded that CoHo houses could serve the community by having rotating student-selected themes.
“We saw a lot of value in themed housing that is chosen [by students],” Kraus said.
Kraus also noted the ability of student-selected theme housing to better represent the Tufts student body.
“It’s something that changes as the student body changes,” Kraus said.
Kraus said she saw potential for CoHo houses to be new social space on campus for both the student body as well as the wider community. She hopes that CoHo’s programming can foster positive relationships with the greater Medford community, saying that residents would be welcome in the house’s shared backyards.
Kraus said, in conversations with Medford and Somerville residents, she often heard that “students need to actually act like they are a neighbor and also invest in their communities.”
Kraus also said that university-owned houses could facilitate better conflict resolution between students and residents.
“We also thought about … lines of communication so that everyone in the surrounding area knows exactly who to call, and it doesn’t always have to be like Medford Police or TUPD,” Kraus said, adding that residents should be able to call RAs or other students before involving the police.
Associate Director of Housing Operations Matt Austin told the Daily in an email that themed housing will not be implemented this year. However, he added that the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) is planning on introducing themes in the 2019-20 academic year.
Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon confirmed this in an email to the Daily.
“In the 2018-19 academic year, Residential Life will work closely with student leaders to look comprehensively at our theme and special-interest housing program across the residence halls and including CoHo,” McMahon said.
Regarding the 2019-20 academic year, McMahon stated that there will be some themed houses in the development and that student activity fund money will be provided to support those houses’ efforts. She explained that there has been no decision on how many houses will be themed and how much money will be provided.
According to McMahon, themed housing represents a larger effort by the university to “provide depth and structure to the residential life program.”
Sarah Park, a junior slated to live in CoHo this fall, described her experience applying to live in CoHo in an interview with the Daily.
She said that she and her housemates applied to live in CoHo at the end of May, after applications for on-campus housing had closed.
Park and her group were informed by email that their application had been accepted. She said that the email stated that the selection process for students wishing to live in CoHo was based on averaging a group’s lottery numbers and giving priority to groups with higher numbers—similar to the allocation of other group housing at Tufts.
Austin explained that groups who applied to live in CoHo had already gained housing on campus during the normal selection process.
“Groups that did not get selected for CoHo remained in the places they originally picked, so there was no risk in applying,” Austin said.
Austin also explained that the CoHo application process occurred later because ResLife was not initially certain that phase one would be completed by the fall.
“We could not risk placing students in these buildings if there was any doubt of them being ready,” Austin said. “Once we received those assurances in April, we advertised the new options to all eligible students.”
Tiered Housing and CoHo
CoHo ranks at the top of the university’s proposed tiered housing system; it will cost residents $10,219 per academic year once the system, announced in a July email to the Tufts community, comes online in fall 2019.
Soon after Tufts announced the tiered housing system, Tufts Housing League (THL), a student activist group, released a statement in coalition with other student groups calling the new housing model unfair to low and middle-income students.
McMahon said that despite the new housing tiers, the school will factor a student’s housing choice into their financial aid award.
“Awards will be adjusted as necessary to meet the full demonstrated financial need of each admitted and returning student,” McMahon told the Daily in an email. “[This] means that all students who receive financial aid will be able to participate in the housing selection process knowing that their aid will match their need.”
Her remark echoes the ResLife website’s on-campus housing FAQ section, which explains that a student whose housing is fully covered in the 2018-2019 school year will continue to have their housing fully covered in 2019-20, even if this student chooses to live in CoHo.
But Tufts’ process of rewarding financial aid is still unclear, according to THL co-founder Shane Woolley.
“Financial aid and [its] process is not transparent,” Woolley, a senior, said. “There are a lot of factors that go into [financial aid], and year-to-year you might not know which factors are going in to making that more or less expensive.”
Woolley also projected that the financial aid policy will do little to relieve students’ anxieties about housing.
“[The] uncertainty is going to disincentivize students on financial aid from applying for the more expensive dorms,” he said.
Nathan Krinsky, also a THL co-founder, projected that the tiered housing model will have a visible impact on future CoHo residents.
“Based on [the university’s] new plan, [CoHo] is going to be a student village that’s populated predominantly or exclusively by the richest students at Tufts, and that’s going to be who social life is centered around,” Krinsky, a senior, said.
Park said that the university, through the new pricing model, is reneging on their promises to make campus more accessible to more students, noting that she would not have chosen to move to CoHo if she were affected by the tiered pricing.
CoHo and the Housing Shortage
Both Woolley and Krinsky said that THL is concerned that CoHo does not alleviate the larger housing shortage experienced by students and residents of Medford and Somerville.
Woolley explained that the houses and apartments used for CoHo previously housed faculty and staff. These staff were forced to relocate to accommodate the creation of CoHo.
Woolley said that the university’s housing practice since the 1970s has been to buy houses in the Medford and Somerville communities for use by graduate students, faculty and staff and to slowly convert them into student housing, a model which he describes as unsustainable.
“When [Tufts] converts [off-campus housing] over to student housing they kick all those people out and those people have to go into the surrounding housing market and the problem is just externalized,” he said.
Krinsky and Woolley also said that they see a new, dense dorm on campus as the only way for the university to address the housing shortage.
McMahon said that this remains a university goal and will be the subject of feasibility studies this year.
“It takes several years to design and develop a new residential facility, and it would also require identifying significant amounts of new funds,” she said.
She also pointed to several efforts by the university to increase the number of beds on campus, including “optimization” of housing and initiatives like CoHo.
“Stratton Hall was thoroughly renovated over the past three summers, and it will have 76 new beds this year, mostly through returning large singles that were designed to be doubles back to their intended use. The Miller and Houston renovation project will also add 38 beds by Fall 2019,” she said.
Adding to the trend toward optimizing university-owned housing, Tufts is also planning to undertake a project similar to CoHo on Sawyer Avenue, according to Woolley.
“Tufts University will be conducting a feasibility study this Fall to explore the possibility of a CoHo style project on the Somerville side of the campus,” Director of Community Relations Rocco Dirico told the Daily in an email.
Dirico said that the project wouldn’t be immediate.
“If we did decide to proceed with the project, it would require the approval of the appropriate departments in the City of Somerville,” he said.