Tufts should attack the housing crisis head-on by building a new dorm. Tufts is only able to house 63 percent of undergraduates and is increasing enrollment. The administration has implemented plans that include the displacement of faculty, 28.8 percent rent increases for many students and forced triples. These plans avoid or replicate the central problem with Tufts housing: There’s not enough of it.
Tufts is in the middle of a push to expand enrollment by another 200 students, according to slides from a faculty meeting. The administration, in those same meetings, has said that additional beds added through bed optimization, the Community Housing project and the renovation of Miller Hall and Houston Hall will compensate for increased enrollment. But these don’t solve the crisis that already exists, they might not even keep it from deepening. Somerville and Medford are in the midst of a housing crisis, with inadequate affordable housing and rapidly increasing rents. Students forced off campus contribute to this by taking up housing units and driving up rents. Landlords are able to use the quick turnover in leases to raise prices, hurting students looking for off-campus housing and long-time working-class residents.
Tufts isn’t the cause of the rent crisis, but it is a contributing factor. Tufts doesn’t provide enough housing to its current student body, with a smaller percentage of its students living on campus than at many competing schools. Even schools in New York’s notoriously cramped and expensive real estate market, like Columbia, are able to house more than 90 percent of undergraduate students. NESCAC competitors, like Bowdoin, also outstrip Tufts, providing a minimum of 88 percent of undergraduates with housing.
The eventual completion of the Green Line extension may further increase rent, as a direct connection to Boston would ease the commute to Boston for workers in Medford and make this area more attractive to people moving from out of state.
While a dorm would cost a lot of money in the short run, it would help Tufts be a better neighbor and maintain a higher enrollment than in the past. In the wake of Tufts Housing League (THL)’s march and tent city action last November, Tufts spokesperson Patrick Collins was quoted in the Daily as saying a new dorm was possible with more funds. But the university should decide to do it now, before the disruption of the Green Line extension. Students and organizations should push Tufts to begin raising funds for a new dorm and prioritizing it over other projects. The Science and Engineering Complex, the Cummings building, the central energy plant and spending on deferred maintenance were all necessary to position Tufts for a modest expansion, according to senior Jonah O’Mara Schwartz, a TCU senator and organizer with THL. But if there aren’t enough beds for students, expansion will only hurt Tufts’ relationship to surrounding communities and push students into expensive, precarious conditions off campus.
Building a new high capacity dorm, something the size of Harleston Hall, should be a priority, as it could improve Tufts’ relationships with its neighbors and its ability to provide for the needs of students. If the administration is unwilling to recognize this, students should take action to change their view. Such actions could range from circulating petitions in favor of a new dorm among alumni and parents, to joining THL in demonstrations or advocating for greater democratic control and transparency in university decision making.