Housing For Students is a Hot Mess

No matter what neighborhood in Boston you reside in a betting man would say you are locked into at least a year long lease. The average student is going to remain in Boston for roughly nine months and leave one of those months for winter break, thus only living in their own apartment for two thirds of the lease. Every year you see units available on CraigsList, Facebook, blogs, and school boards from students who are not living in their apartments for the summer. This mass subletting every summer conducted by students, some 18 years old, is one highlighted by disorganization, stress and a low success rate.

Why does Boston not consider flexible housing options or other alternatives to the conventional one year lease? With mounting pressure on higher educational institutions to provide housing for their students rather than have them look for apartments, it seems interesting that these institutions have not considered alternatives other than build more dormitories. Better yet, why has a private investor/developer/entrepreneur not capitalized on this problem that effects all parties from students, to schools, to neighborhoods and their residents, to the city as a whole?

Privatized communal housing with security and the whole nine is one alternative. Similar to dormitories, however offered to students at an affordable rate. Rethinking the traditional lease is another option, where landlords specifically target students with leases that last from September to May of every year nullifying any subletting issues that may arise. The landlord would then be able to rent the remaining three months for an inflated rate. Boston can also look at international best practices and find what has worked best and what would fit our market and tweak it to best work for our particular housing environment.

What would you like to see happen surrounding the living situations provided for Boston students? What do you think would be most effective, cost-efficient, and enjoyable? Is the current system and model of housing for young people sufficient? In an ideal world what would you like to see, whether it be high-rises, mini communities of students, or all student housing pushed to greater Boston?



Filed under Fact and Reflection Fridays, Mo' Money Mondays, ONEin3ers in the World, Where You Live-Housing & Neighborhood Nights

9 responses to “Housing For Students is a Hot Mess

  1. Chris

    The real finger that should be pointed here is not at the landords, but perhaps at the local economy that isn’t providing the jobs,internships,etc. needed to keep the students here and working during the summer. The reason most go home is because they have a job at home. However, if they had a job here, my guess is they’d be just as happy to continue staying away from the watchful eyes of mom and dad. It’s tough times still, the economy is improving but it’s slow and so if you really want to point a finger, point it at the companies not doing business in and therefore not providing jobs in Boston. Don’t get upset at those already here and providing a much needed service. Isn’t that the point of Onein3, to get people to stay in Boston after they finish school? You guys should spend more time harassing major corporations and less time picking on small business owners that are already here!

  2. devincole

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    What do you mean by “picking on small business owners that are already here?”

    Our question/concern with this blog was to ask how we could make it easier for students to live the lives that students live, which includes some legitimate level of moving around during the course of the summer. I doubt that we’ll ever have a situation where no 19 year-olds go home (or to Cape Cod, New Hampshire or any other vacation spot to work in restaurants) in the summer, even if we have a job for every single one here. I know when I was 19, I preferred waiting tables on the Cape to working an internship, just because it was more fun to have beautiful summer days off near a beach and because I made way more money doing that than I would have filing documents.

    So yeah, I don’t think we’re picking on anyone, just asking how we can make it easier for a huge group of people in Boston to live the way they want to live in Boston.

    If you disagree, please respond.


  3. Maria

    “Rethinking the traditional lease is another option, where landlords specifically target students with leases that last from September to May of every year nullifying any subletting issues that may arise. The landlord would then be able to rent the remaining three months for an inflated rate”

    Brilliant! As a landlord, why didn’t I think of that!?! I could offer a 9-month lease, and then when the student(s) move out, I can eat the 3 months rent I will lose for the summer. Oh, but then I could rent the remaining 3 months at an inflated rate, right…Maybe ONE in 3 could hire me part-time so I can keep the bank from foreclosing 🙂

  4. devincole

    Maria…thanks for your comment. None of the solutions in the post are fully formed. I wonder if you have some thoughts on how landlords (are you one?) and students (or any tenant who would benefit from leases not on the Sept-Sept calendar) might find a mutually beneficial solution? Even better, is there anything you might suggest that the City might be able to implement that would get at this issue?

  5. Howard

    As a landlord, I agree with Maria. The current system is not perfect, but it is the best system. The landlord needs to be guaranteed his full year of rent because the bank isn’t going to stop asking for mortgage payments just because he doesn’t have a summer tenant. If you were to switch to a 9month/3month cycle, landlords would have to start charging 4/3 the normal rent to the 9 month student to guarantee he gets his full year rent. Then any summer rent goes to the landlord as well. In the current system, the student also pays the full year’s rent but effectively get’s a rebate of the summer rent.
    When I went to school, I lived in the dorms during the school year and then stayed in Boston to work in a lab for the summer. If it wasn’t for these summer sublets, I would not have been able to afford to stay in Boston.
    My recommendation for students who have to sublet their apartment: start listing early and often (online and on bulletin boards) and expect to have to discount the rent to find a sublettee.

  6. Maria

    A major problem that very few people realize, except for other landlords, is that we are left holding the bag if a tenant chooses not to pay, damages the property beyond security deposit, vacancies, increased cost of utilties if we pay the heat, lead paint laws, rising prop taxes etc. Often times these costs cut into our bottom lines and we are left to clean up the mess.

    Also, the cost of real estate is still high, all of this needs to be paid for. While rent may seem high, the cost of ownership is always higher, unless you have owned your property long enough to have it paid off.

    One idea is that if tenants are willing to lock in multiyear leases, rent for most landlords could be negotiable. If I know that I have a tenant for an extra 2 or 3 years, I would be willing to take less rent. One thing to keep in mind is that larger cities where people want to live, are often expensive. NY, Chi, SF, are all examples of places where people want to be, and they are expensive whether you rent or own. If anybody remembers the 70s or 80s, rent in Boston was much lower, but the city was far less desirable place in which to live.

  7. Chris

    I do disagree! I found the minimum amount a BU student has to pay to stay on campus, (with most paying that amount living in a quad) is $7980 for the year. As of this writing there are 319 4 beds in Allston for $2600/month or less this brings the 12 month costs per person to $7,800. So what we have is landlords (aka small business owners) providing housing at a cheaper cost for 12 months, than living in the dorms on campus for 9. Please let me know why people are complaining?

  8. devincole


    You just cherry picked the most expensive school in the Boston area as your example . Bogus argument.

    When students and other young people consistently cite housing costs as their biggest concern about living in Boston, we take notice and ask how we might be able to make a dent in this problem. No one is suggesting that landlords subsidize student housing. Nowhere in this article or in my comments do you see that argument.

    You can conflate this issue with some strange preoccupation with protecting small business all you want, but you’re making a dishonest (I would say irrelevant too) argument when you cite dorm housing costs at BU and pretend we’re railing against landlords.

    I will ask again, how can we make it easier for students and recent graduates to afford Boston’s housing costs which are, by any measure, well above average for cities in the United States?

    How can we, as a city, address the way that subletting is done in Boston?


  9. Gerry

    Thank you for highlighting this issue, Devin.

    I think it’s an important one for the city. I have seen so many people — students and professionals — move and take their enormous talents to other cities just because they couldn’t afford the rents here.

    Of course I have no magic solutions to the rent problem. But one possible idea would be to improve the safety of some of our more dangerous communities. These communities have cheap rents — and are often easily accessible by the T. (Think Dorchester, etc.)

    If safety was improved there, more students and young professionals would feel safe living there. They could take advantage of the cheaper rents there. They could keep living in the city. They could more easily sublet their apartments. They could keep contributing to Boston rather than to some other city.

    Plus, the landlords in those areas would probably like these changes because improved safety would mean that their property values would most likely increase.

    On the flip side, as safety improves, the rents that were once low would go up, but only over time. And there would still be more low-rent apartments available on the market than there are now — which would mean that more people could afford to stay in the city, a bonus for the students and a bonus for Boston.

    Now how to improve safety….That’s a question for another day. : )

    Thanks again, Devin.


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