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Student Housing In Growth Mode In Boston, But Not Without Headaches

Boston needs more housing, and that's especially true in the student housing sector, as the City of Boston is pressing for more students to live on or near campus, according to the speakers at our Boston Higher Ed & Student Housing event. The many challenges of getting new housing done means that universities are starting to turn to private partners.


There's been an enormous surge in student housing development in Boston and the surrounding area in recent years. During the last 24 to 36 months, about 3,100 new beds have been completed, and if that pace keeps up—actually not even quite that many—then the city's goal of creating 16,000 undergraduate units by 2030, and 2,500 grad student units by the same year, will be met.

Most recent reports from the colleges and universities show a drop of more than 1,200 undergrads living in off-campus housing in Boston compared to fall 2013. That's about 80% of the target for off-campus undergrad reduction.

Here are Boston University executive director Marc Robillard, Cabot, Cabot & Forbes CEO Jay Doherty, Berklee College of Music VP for real estate William Whitney and SGA director of higher education Jacob Higginbottom, who moderated.


The speakers said that one of today's drivers for student housing is that universities are striving to keep their students closer to campus—a trend that isn't unique to New England. The further students live from campus, the less connected they tend to be to the life of the campus, and their fellow students. 

Another significant driver is that a lot of older properties, dating from the wave of dorm development 50 or 60 years ago, are in need of a major overhaul or replacement. The result is that universities want their housing better, closer, faster, cheaper and absolutely on time.

Bruner/Cott Architects principal Scott Aqulina, Wearsafe director Clay Frost and CohnReznick partner Jack Callahan.


Private partners are potentially much more important in the process than they used to be, leveraging their experience to achieve the results that their university partners want. Boston-area universities are looking hard at public-private partnerships to meet their housing needs. 

Another reason is that private partners in the development process  helps mitigate the risk of development. Universities are especially eager to keep developments off their balance sheets, the better to devote their resources to their primary mission, education and research.

Here are UMass Building Authority executive director Patricia Filippone, Capstone Development Partners principal Jeff Jones and Stantec senior associate Colleen Arria.


In important ways, student housing faces some of the same challenges as any other kinds of housing, and in Boston, that means high costs for land, at least when the university doesn't already own it, and high construction costs in any case. 

Another challenge for student housing in Boston is that local transit has been neglected for so long. Transit's a key component for any desirable housing now, and while the MBTA is taking steps to improve things, it needs about $1B more a year than it has to restore the system to optimum condition.  

Shown: Jacob Higginbottom and Bergmeyer president Mike Davis.