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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Increase in student population could flood Waltham low-income housing market

Published: March 20, 2009
Section: Front Page

Off Campus: Tony Rios ‘11 outside of an off campus house he is considering renting with two friends next year.  As the Brandeis student population increases, more students will be forced to live off campus, driving up rental prices for low-income families.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Off Campus: Tony Rios ‘11 outside of an off campus house he is considering renting with two friends next year. As the Brandeis student population increases, more students will be forced to live off campus, driving up rental prices for low-income families.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

When university administrators decided to help close the budget gap by increasing the undergraduate population by 400 students by the fall of 2014, the Faculty Senate’s Curriculum and Academic Restructuring Steering Committee (CARS) developed the Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) to lessen the overcrowding that could be caused by additional students.

Yet while JBS, which is up for consideration by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, was created with campus facilities in mind, The Hoot’s calculations of JBS and Waltham housing statistics suggest that JBS would not negate the impact that 400 additional students would have on Waltham’s low-income housing market.

In fact, even with JBS, increasing the student population by 400 would lead to a 73.9 percent increase in undergraduates living off campus during the academic year, assuming that all Brandeis beds are filled and that no students are living abroad apart from JBS.

Such an increase would either cause Waltham rental prices to rise considerably, or would drive low-income families out of the city and away from their work.

This potential increase in students off campus stems from the Brandeis administration’s decision to increase the undergraduate population by 400 undergraduates by the fall of 2014 without increasing the number of on-campus beds.

JBS, if approved by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, would require students to participate in academic programs away from campus and away from Waltham for at least one semester of their college experience, and therefore has been hailed by the administration as the solution to any overcrowding adding 400 students could cause.

However, Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe, who chairs the CARS committee responsible for JBS’ development, told The Hoot that JBS would only take 150 students out of Waltham per semester—leaving the remaining 250 students to find housing off campus.

These 250 students would join the 338 students who already would live off campus if all Brandeis beds were filled, and if the university were at its maximum capacity of 122 lofted triples, and if no students extra students were studying abroad.

Currently, Jaffe estimated 300 to 350 students study abroad per year, a number which he does not expect to increase with the student population outside of students participating in JBS.

The number of students living off campus could increase even more, however, if students continue to opt for off campus housing instead of housing on campus, leaving Brandeis beds empty.

Vice President for Campus Operations Mark Collins told The Hoot that Residence Life currently has roughly 300 vacant beds, largely concentrated in the Charles River and Foster Mods dorms.

Collins acknowledged that the vacant beds could be due to students not wanting to live in older buildings. He said, “frankly, we have a whole lot of work to do down there.” There is no short term plan for renovating the dorms in the hopes of making them more attractive to students.

With no renovations scheduled for the near future, Collins predicted that Charles River and Foster Mods would become less desirable housing options and that there would be an increase in students living off campus; however, he was quick to caution that, while there are no statistics for how many students living off campus live in Waltham, some students who live off campus live in other areas like Cambridge or Boston.

Even so, any increase in student population living off campus and in Waltham would hit particularly hard given that about half of the city’s total population’s annual earnings place them in the low to moderate income brackets, according to the June 2007 Waltham Community Development Plan (CDP), with renters making up 54 percent of Waltham dwellers.

Federal housing guidelines mandate that housing is considered affordable for a given family only if the rent or ownership cost is roughly 30 percent or less of the family’s gross income.

In order for rentals to be affordable for Waltham families in the low-income bracket, they must cost less than $819 per month.

In contrast, the Brandeis’ “Guide to Off Campus Housing”—produced by the Department of Residence Life—cites typical monthly rates for students looking to live in a one bedroom apartment in Waltham as $850-$1,200 per month—far above the affordable housing rate for half of Waltham’s residents.

While the Waltham Housing Authority provides 700 affordable housing units, currently, there are more than 5,500 Waltham residents on the Housing Authority’s waitlist who have to look toward privately owned housing for shelter, according to the CDP.

Under Federal Section 8, the Housing Authority can provide 450 rent-subsidy vouchers to assist tenants. The 2007 CDP reported a waitlist of 934 single persons and 2,346 families.

Due to Brandeis’ location in Waltham, Waltham’s low-income residents looking for privately owned affordable rentals directly compete with Brandeis students for housing.

Brandeis is located adjacent to a region of Waltham called the South Side—a densely populated region of the city which, according to the 2000 census, “is home to over 50 percent of the city’s total population and the majority of the city’s lower income immigrant families.”

In fact, 27 percent of South Side households earn less than $25,000 per year.

Therefore, when Brandeis students seek off-campus housing close to the university, they are directly competing with these low-income families.

In 2007, 10 percent of Brandeis students lived off campus and in Waltham, according to the CDP, which already posed a problem for the low-income community when “undergraduate students with multiple roommates outbid working families for apartments.”

Director of the Waltham Alliance to Create Housing (WATCH) Steve Laferrier told The Hoot that “Brandeis students tend to rent the older, more affordable units in neighborhoods that also fit the needs of lower income residents.”

This competition leads to a rise in housing prices that would not only force Waltham’s low-income residents out of the city, but potentially out of work as well.

According to the CDP, 57 percent of Waltham’s residents work outside of the city, with a majority of them working in Boston.

Because Waltham’s rental prices are considerably lower than those of the surrounding Boston suburbs, if Waltham’s low-income residents are forced to leave the city, it is unlikely they will be able to find affordable housing in surrounding towns.

Additionally, an increase in housing prices would negatively effect the Waltham economy, according to the CDP.

“The high cost of housing may affect the region’s ability to attract workers; force out low-and moderate-income residents;cut discretionary spending and thus affect local business;and contribute to wage pressures and inflation,” the CDP reads.

While Laferrier said such changes would be unfortunate, he said that if Brandeis increases its student population, given the economy, there would not be much WATCH could do to help tenants in need of housing.

“If the demand for apartments increases and the supply doesn’t, then either prices will go up and families will have to pay, or they will have to leave,” he said. “It’s just simple economics.”