Affordable housing conference underscores growing need for action

Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

With each new year, and each new search for off-campus housing, there seems to be a hike in rent costs for locations in Medford and Somerville. Many students have at least one story of sticker shock, the moment when a realtor unveils the glaring flaw of the otherwise all-too-perfect apartment. This afternoon, the Four Planning Schools and the Massachusetts American Planning Association Annual Conference will be held in the Cabot ASEAN Auditorium. The conference, on the subject of “Securing Affordable Housing in Hot Market Areas,” is timely. With the completion of the Green Line extension expected in 2017, and amid the increase in rent rates in cities nationwide including Boston, rents around Tufts can only increase. Addressing this problem now is crucial.

Fixing the problem will require serious effort. There are plenty of obstacles that are readily apparent when glancing around the campus, in particular the challenge of finding space for more housing. There is very little space that has yet to be taken up by new projects, whether for athletics or class space. While there are a few buildings that might be able to be repurposed — the new science building on 574 Boston Avenue could open up space inside Barnum Hall to possibly be converted into living space — this seems an unlikely proposition at best.

At the same time, the university is not the only organization attempting to fight rising rents for its constituencies. Both the cities of Medford and Somerville will have constituencies concerned with how to tackle the problem of rising rents, which may inspire competition for space in the greater Medford and Somerville area. Families, too, will be squeezed out of the community as more young professionals move into the area to take advantage of the preponderance of opportunities located in Boston, now conveniently close via the Green Line.

The conference is an example of the cooperation that will be needed to combat increasing rents. Tufts, Medford and Somerville have an interest in solving this problem, and the actions of one community will affect the situations of the others. The administration must continue focusing on this issue in its strategic plans, especially if they want to keep expanding Tufts and reaching the heights they desire for the university. Heading off housing problems is a must, and the university should be well aware of the challenges that lay ahead.