With Tufts now confronting an unprecedented housing emergency after decades of unrelenting enrollment growth and expansion into our residential neighborhood, the Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG) recently announced its intended solution: expansion of undergraduate housing into the residential homes Tufts has purchased along the edges of our Somerville and Medford communities. This is completely unacceptable. To be clear, my Somerville neighbors and I do understand the magnitude of the student housing crisis, but this is a problem of Tufts’ own creation and not one that its neighbors should pay for in any way.
For decades, Tufts has increased enrollment with scant regard to where those students will live. In the past 35 years, the administration has increased undergraduate enrollment alone by roughly 1,000 students, while constructing only two new dormitories with a mere 493 total beds. The last of these, Sophia Gordon Hall, was completed ten years ago in 2006. As Tufts administrators annually increased enrollment without adding housing, they must certainly have understood that the additional students would be forced to find their own apartments off campus. This directly drove up our local rent and real estate prices, displacing families as “absentee investor” landlords stepped up to cash in. Many students would prefer to live on campus, but they have no choice after drawing a low housing lottery number. Responding to the demand fueled by students with nowhere else to live, these slumlords converted dining rooms, storage areas and even large closets into bedrooms. For years, students have been forced to pay sky-high rents for low quality, off-campus housing.
Somerville is already the most densely populated city in New England. We have our own housing crisis, which has been significantly exacerbated by the university’s expansion into our community.
When Tufts acquires real estate, like the houses on Sawyer Avenue, Whitfield Road and Curtis Street, the property is removed from the city tax rolls, therefore requiring tax payers to make up the difference in the city budget. Tufts’ much ballyhooed “payments in lieu of taxes” are utterly insufficient to cover the actual costs associated with providing municipal services to the university such as fire protection. Somerville homeowners are already paying high taxes, and this Election Day, voters approved a ballot that will override the law that limits Somerville property taxes in order to fund a new and very expensive high school to replace our dilapidated 1895 building. It’s wrong to compel Somerville tax payers to fork over even more money to subsidize Tufts’ operations.
Students and their parents currently pay outrageous amounts of money to attend Tufts; but in addition to the inadequate housing, the classrooms and dining facilities are often overcrowded — just search the Tufts Daily online archives for “over enrollment” and “housing” for details. There is simply no room for more students on or off campus.
It’s time for the Tufts Board of Trustees and administration to take direct responsibility for this housing crisis that’s their creation. Instead of further shifting the burden to the citizens of Somerville and Medford, build at least six new sustainable Sophia Gordon Hall size dormitories on campus and slash enrollment until the university is ready for its occupancy.
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