City officials, residents address Tufts University housing proposal

On December 20, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

A student housing shortage has Tufts University looking outwards for more space to put beds.

By Jim Clark

At the latest regular meeting of the Somerville Board of Aldermen last week, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang reported on the business of the Committee on Housing and Community Development which met on November 29.

Among the matters discussed at that meeting was the proposed conversion of wood-framed offices into residential units for students of Tufts University.

According to Niedergang, several representatives from Tufts were present at the meeting, along with city officials and members of the neighboring community.

Niedergang indicated that there were no updates for Somerville at that time as the project has only been moving forward in Medford to date.

Robert Chihade, Director of Real Estate at Tufts, was present at the meeting and provided maps of locations of buildings that they plan on renovating and converting into student housing, along with a letter explaining the program.

Chihade told attendees at the meeting that only two dorms had been built on campus since 1980 and that Tufts was trying to address criticism of neighbors and leaders in the city by adding 600 beds over the next five years through the proposed conversion program.

Niedergang further reported that Chihade said the real estate they are working on around the campus is owned by Walnut Hill, which does pay taxes on the properties, and that the permitting process and neighborhood meetings in Medford have already taken place.

Chihade said that the new housing would consist of apartments for older students and not dorms, and that there would be only one student per bedroom. No parking would be provided.

While construction in Medford is expected to take place next year, as far as Somerville is concerned such plans will not be formally introduced until the summer or fall, when community meetings can be held and the plans can be presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

At the meeting, Ward 7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne expressed her opposition to the proposed expansion into Somerville and said that she is also opposed to current tenants being forced to move out of these wood-frame houses that some have been living in for a long time.

Ballantyne further said that Tufts never communicated to her as the ward alderman about the program and that she wants to understand better what the impact on the neighborhood would be.

Tufts should be increasing the density of the current housing that they control on campus, according to Ballantyne, and she has a number of concerns about this project.

Director Chihade told the committee that there would not be any evictions and that people will be relocated by the project, adding that the affected area in Somerville is just on streets that border Tufts, and only those particular wood-frame houses already mentioned.

Four members of the public that were sponsored to speak by Alderman Ballantyne raised concerns about the impact on the West Somerville Neighborhood School with the proposed changes to residents in the area. Opposition to having transient students moving into locations that currently house long term families and staff members was also expressed, along with concerns that with the current housing crisis in the city, this program would negatively impact the character of the neighborhood.

According to Niedergang’s report, these neighbors would rather see dorm rooms on campus increased, and that many felt this proposal could be harmful to the relationship between the community and the university, citing the possibility of problems with student behavior with so many living together in these houses.

The Director of Community Relations at Tufts, Barbara Rubel, said that the neighborhood residents have some misunderstandings about the program, pointing out that there are a lot more students now living in Medford rather than Somerville because rent prices are so high here. She also said that Tufts cannot afford to build a new dorm on campus at this time.

Director Chihade acknowledged that there is a housing shortage at Tufts and said that everyone there is working hard to provide more housing for students.

Alderman Niedergang indicated that the matter is being kept in committee so that it can monitor the program as it rolls out both in Medford and in Somerville.


8 Responses to “City officials, residents address Tufts University housing proposal”

  1. Matt C says:

    We need more PILOT payments!!! The contract should be up for renegotiation soon!

  2. Somerville Resident says:

    For clarification: Tufts stated they are working to implement a comprehensive program to add 600 beds; only a portion of that total would be via this proposal.

  3. Jim G. says:

    Only a portion? What portion? 100? 200? More? That’s still a lot of beds, if we’re talking one student per bedroom, as indicated in the article. Just saying, for clarification.

  4. 600? says:

    600 additional students? At 60k per student, per year that’s going to ad up to real money before you know it…

  5. live within your means says:

    If Tufts doesn’t have space to house all of its’ students then they need to look at accepting fewer students. Their greed is impacting our city in a very negative way. You have x amount of dorm rooms, that is how many students you accept. Pretty simple.

  6. Joe Beckmann says:

    Two features should be addressed by both Tufts and the aldermen. Certainly their PiLoT payments should increase from the current 5% of what Harvard contributes to its hosts, but those payments might also include free tuition and technical assistance to the city’s departments and schools. Payment in Lieu of Taxes ought to represent a genuine community outreach.

    Second, Tufts already owns lots of real estate off campus, and the city is engaged in creating new community spaces around Davis Square through former church buildings and other sites. The Holland Street former school, for which we pay over $300,000 a year in rent for a building we sold to Tufts at a huge discount, might well become a residential center for grad students. And it’s a lot larger than what their plans now anticipate. And they already own it.

  7. Matt C says:

    I wonder how much they pay in property tax on the building we are renting – it might be a wash :-p

  8. Birdy says:

    @Matt C: Tufts is a nonprofit…don’t think they pay taxes on it.

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