In recent months, the administration has taken increased measures through students and faculty to gauge an understanding of desired housing options. The recently formed Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG) is just one example of how Tufts administrators are working with students to create a realistic plan for housing both on-campus and off-campus. Additionally, the Office of Residential Life and Learning has informed students of its ongoing work with the architecture firm Sasaki Associates to create a campus housing master plan and has welcomed students’ thoughts in open feedback sessions. Though the groups involved in residential renovations have yet to produce a concrete plan for future housing, on-campus housing is at a near capacity and it is obvious that new housing solutions are necessary. Whatever plan these working groups come to, it must be bold.
Higher renting costs increases are impacting people across the Boston area, and Medford and Somerville are not exceptions to this trend. From 2011 to 2013 the median cost of rent in Medford increased by nine percent. Increased costs of rent have been devastating to low income households. Approximately 36 percent of low to middle income Medford households experienced a significant housing cost burden as of May 2015. Tufts students are not helping this situation either. In some cases, Tufts students are able to pay higher rent prices due to parents’ aid or by overcrowding houses with or without landlord knowledge (though there has been a crackdown on landlords knowingly overcrowding houses near campus with a new ordinance out of Somerville). Groups of students who can pay high rent costs contribute to the rising cost of rent; landlords can find students who will be willing to pay prices that members of the local community cannot. This is not to say that Tufts students are not hurt by rising rent costs. For the many upperclassmen who are unwilling or unable to pay rent costs (noting that costs will only increase as time goes on), they turn to on-campus housing options.
Based upon this information, it is only logical that Tufts is now working on a plan for an expansion of student housing. Yet there is a double-edged sword to any development to alleviate student rent costs — the “bubble” around campus, the area immediately surrounding campus that experiences higher prices due to its proximity to the university, will grow as the university expands its student base in order to continue to compete with its peer rivals. This bubble would be the outcome of projects, like that MBTA Green Line Extension, that increase the value of Tufts or augment the demand for housing around Tufts. The on-campus housing expansion plan may also be factored into the hike in tuition fees mostly suffered by students won’t enjoy the long term benefits of the project.
As Tufts pursues higher rankings, increased selectivity and increased resources for its students and faculty, its physical expansion will inevitably cause changes in the Somerville and Medford neighborhoods. The negative impacts on the non-Tufts community in the neighborhoods are unavoidable, but they must be mitigated for both the numerous students who feel crushed between high prices and few dorm options and the low-income residents of Medford and Somerville who are being pressured by high income inequality as well as rent costs. The university’s obligation to do so is both to its students and to its community, and any plans that don’t address these concerns should be criticized appropriately.