Tufts’ housing policies hurt our relationships with our neighbors. Somerville City Councilor for Ward 1 Matt McLaughlin told the Daily in a phone interview that Tufts is undoubtedly contributing to gentrification in Somerville.
Because Tufts students live in hundreds of rental units throughout Somerville and Medford, they drive up local rents and cause surrounding neighborhoods to gentrify quicker, according to McLaughlin. The root cause of the problem is the shortage of housing on campus.
As a solution to this shortage, the university has resorted to a variety of solutions, including converting singles to doubles; renovating various halls, including Stratton, Miller and Houston Halls; and developing additional on-campus housing at CoHo. CoHo was built to encourage more upperclassmen to live on campus by providing them with houses. However, CoHo also impacted Tufts’ relationship with the surrounding community. In order to house more students, the school forced faculty and staff, many of whom lived in their houses for decades, to relocate. Tufts should not force university employees out of their houses to accommodate the growing student population, especially when other options are plausible.
Councilor McLaughlin took the suggestion that Tufts should add a new dorm building one step further, noting that if Tufts tore down 123 Packard Ave, the university could potentially fit hundreds of housing units in the same place. McLaughlin specifically noted that some residents of Somerville would like to see height restrictions waived, so Tufts has more incentive to increase density.
“They should build more housing, not this tiered housing,” McLaughlin added. He also said that the city of Somerville currently pays more in rent for the use of the Taft Building on Holland Street to Tufts than Tufts pays to Somerville, as part of its Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
Tufts plans to add hundreds more students in the next four years. On top of that, Tufts only houses 63% of undergraduates, while schools like Boston College house over 80% of their undergraduate population. If Tufts wants to be a good neighbor, it must address the on-campus housing shortage without displacing more people.
Tufts’ expansion into surrounding communities affects the lives of Somerville and Medford residents. Students cause noise and inconveniences, sometimes disturbing those in residential neighborhoods. Mauri Trimmer, a junior studying anthropology and member of Tufts Housing League (THL), mentioned that THL is currently working on a guide for students living off-campus, offering them tips for how to deal with situations that arise when living independently, such as dealing with trash violations and learning how to be good neighbors.
Tufts needs to be transparent about housing and plans for the future, including dorm construction. In addition, the university should prioritize building a new dorm over other housing projects. With such changes, Tufts should be able to slow expansion into the neighboring communities, benefitting neighborhood residents and the student body. It is time for Tufts to take responsibility for its role in the gentrification of Medford and Somerville. Our university’s growth shouldn’t hurt our neighbors and community.