Northeastern and Gentrification

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Photo: Members of the Progressive Student Alliance attend a City Life / Vida Urbana rally in Dorchester to protest the eviction of longtime homeowner Christina Soares

by Steffi Klosterman

The recent millions of state and federal dollars committed to affordable housing in Massachusetts is a response to the crisis this state is experiencing. The cost of living in MA is amongst the highest in the country. Boston is one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities in the country. The wait list for public housing can be up to six years. And our homeless population is increasing faster than any other state in the country.

That is why you have people that used to live in Boston moving to places like Lynn and Brockton where the rent is still cheaper. Look at East Boston, Winter Hill in Somerville, and Chinatown: locals are moving out as luxury development increases. In fact, the city of Boston continues to subsidize the lucrative business of luxury condo development – and the No Boston 2024 campaign actually brought transparency issues of private deals between city government and developers to light.

Northeastern’s $40,000 a year tuition prevents many low-income students from attending. In this way we are very different from public schools like Bunker Hill Community College, Roxbury Community College, and UMass Boston.

In fact, Northeastern is directly responsible for the gentrification in Mission Hill, Dudley Square, and the Fenway. And this is not the students’ fault! We have a right to education and we also need a place to live. But Northeastern does not have the infrastructure to house all of its students on campus, and it certainly does not provide affordable options. So we are forced to look to the surrounding neighborhoods, and students are often able to afford higher rents than families and the elderly. Landlords take advantage of this fact to increase rent, which affects the poorest tenants.

Northeastern cannot expand without also gentrifying the surrounding area. It has chosen to abandon its roots as a working-class commuter school to pursue higher rankings and prestige. Today’s NU students are far wealthier than our neighbors. In recent years Northeastern has built multiple dorms encroaching on Roxbury, the very cheapest rooms (an “Economy Triple Apartment”) going for $3355 per four-month semester. A massive new STEM center is under construction right now. Meanwhile, local residents face rising costs of living.

In fact, one of the only places where rent is not increasing nearby is in Dudley Neighbors, Inc., a community land trust that acquired abandoned lots through eminent domain and built perpetual affordable housing on them. If Boston really wants to end displacement from gentrification, the city should direct its millions to a model of community-autonomous affordable housing instead of contracting the work out to private developers.

Finally, Northeastern must stop its steady expansion and focus first on making campus housing – within the existing footprint – available and affordable to all students.

Advice for students

  • Students must demand affordable on-campus housing
  • If you are living off-campus, learn your rights as a tenant
  • Link up with City Life / Vida Urbana and Dudley St. Neighborhood Initiative, two grassroots organizations at the forefront of the affordable housing movement in Boston
  • Steffi Klosterman is a senior at Northeastern University.

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