Last month, Tufts’ Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG) announced their intention to implement proposals for alternative off-campus housing options for juniors and seniors. The group, commissioned by President Monaco, was formed last year in response to housing ordinances in Medford and Somerville that limit the number of students permitted to live in a house, effectively driving up rent prices in neighborhoods surrounding Tufts. These concerns have also been exacerbated by the Green Line Extension project, which would likely increase housing demand in the Medford and Somerville areas, further driving up off-campus housing prices.
The ideas proposed by the RSWG include converting university-owned houses, which are currently used for office space and staff transitional housing, to student houses that would charge university-controlled rent. While this is an interesting prospect that may prove necessary given the stipulations set forth in Medford and Somerville’s housing laws, there are a number of factors the university must consider before following through with the plan.
One of the greatest concerns regarding new off-campus housing is pricing. Housing at Tufts is exorbitantly expensive, as students living on campus pay more than an estimated $7,000 in annual residential costs, and up to $13,000 with an added meal plan. Having control over individual expenditures is one of the biggest draws of living off campus, an option students would not have in university-controlled housing. For Tufts’ plan to be viable from an economic standpoint, the university would need to make the prices for their new housing comparable to the rent students currently pay for off-campus housing near the university, in the ballpark of $700 to $900 per month.
Additionally, a major benefit of living off campus is being allotted a lot of additional freedom. After two years of living in dormitories with strict guidelines — from mandated quiet hours to contraband candles and microwaves — upperclassmen are often eager to experience the independence that comes with off-campus living. The administration has proposed that university-owned housing would provide students with a “gentler transition to life after graduation.” However, the conveniences of living in university-owned housing would undoubtably be coupled with certain limitations, similar to those in dorms. In the case that Tufts’ plan for housing is approved, the administration should aim to ensure that students maintain as much autonomy as possible in order to closely preserve the freedom students enjoy upon moving off campus.
The displacement of faculty is another factor Tufts would have to seriously consider prior to converting existing buildings to student housing. The university has already faced criticism over its unjust treatment of janitors; displacing faculty members to create more student housing could potentially be another infraction against the dedicated staff and faculty at Tufts. It is imperative that Tufts ensures that all the staff members who would be displaced by the housing conversion can find affordable, local housing comparable in size and quality to the housing from which they would be removed.
While converting university-owned houses to student apartments could prove to be a valuable solution to the scarcity of affordable options in Medford and Somerville, Tufts certainly has significant considerations to bear in mind. It is imperative that Tufts consider pricing, relative freedom and the well-being of faculty if they intend to go forward with their housing propositions. If not, the university runs the risk of putting students in a difficult situation — either they pay steeply for apartments in Medford or Somerville, or they sacrifice money, autonomy and respect for the Tufts faculty to live in a university-owned room.