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What Students Want in Housing

New survey will influence on-campus housing plans

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a03-aerial[2]_stuvi.jpg

If StuVi3 is built, it will sit between StuVi1 and StuVi2.

What to do after StuVi2?

Even before the 26-story residential tower opened in fall 2009, University officials were thinking about the next step. Everything was on the table, from another building (StuVi3, anyone?) to prioritizing residences to be remodeled.

But before anything could happen, officials had to address a key question: why aren’t students filling up all available on-campus space?

About 300 dorm and apartment-style rooms, or 3 percent, were empty last academic year, according to Marc Robillard, director of housing. At least 3 percent of BU’s 870 graduate apartments didn’t house students, says Gary Nicksa, vice president for operations. “There is a question as to whether we are meeting the specific needs of undergraduate and graduate students,” Nicksa says.

To answer that question, the University launched six focus groups at the end of January, administered by consulting firm Maguire Associates, to get student perspectives regarding on-campus housing. Information from those sessions led to an online survey in early March, sent to all full-time students. BU will use Maguire’s survey analysis to improve plans for housing development and renovation.

Kathy Dawley, president of Maguire Associates and a member of the BU housing survey project team, says her firm will start releasing results in early April. The target is to receive responses from 30 percent of the student body, about 9,500 people.

Undergraduate questions address topics as diverse as room selection and roommate relationships, quality of residences, and familiarity with off-campus housing options. The graduate survey asks how students search for apartments, if they know about BU-owned options, and for a breakdown of their monthly expenses.

Although she couldn’t yet comment on survey details, Dawley says focus group students were “very much aware of the rather impressive array” of housing options. They were pleased with campus security, she says, and had high praise for food and dining services. What could be improved, they told her, was the housing selection process, a lottery system weighted by class year.

“Students have told us that room selection is stressful, extra-stressful,” Robillard says. “You’re essentially in a competition.”

As to bang for their buck, Dawley says students’ opinions depended on where they lived, with most students ranking StuVi2 as the best option — whether or not it’s home.

For Peter Cusato, vice president for auxiliary services, the most interesting focus group discussions were among graduate students.

“Housing isn’t the big component of their decision regarding where to do graduate work,” he says. “What was surprising is that most of them show up in the city with no idea where they’re going to be living.”

Cusato wants to see more grad students living in University buildings, although BU only has 800 rental apartments for more than 13,000 graduate students. “We don’t do a very good job of advertising their availability,” he acknowledges. “We’re not terribly on the cutting edge of electronics when it comes to displaying our inventory.”

The graduate population is much more diverse than its undergraduate counterpart. Some come alone, others with spouses or partners, others with children. No one housing option will do.

One answer, some say, could be off-campus, private dormitories that house graduate students from multiple universities around Boston.

Private developer Lincoln Property Company worked for more than two years siting such a project in the Fenway neighborhood, only to see neighbors and the city block construction. Rumor has it that John B. Hynes III, developer of the stagnant Filene’s block downtown, might entertain offers from companies specializing in private dorms to move in there, although Hynes has not confirmed an interest.

Barry Bluestone, dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, says universities could work with private developers to build what he calls a “multi-university graduate student village” to house some of the 95,000 graduate students in Boston and relieve pressure on the city’s housing market.

“If it were feasible, this would be a tremendous win for both the university community and the city,” Bluestone says.

Cusato isn’t against such a proposal. “It probably isn’t a bad idea if it were properly advertised,” he says, “and if the institutions made their incoming graduates aware of its existence.” But, he adds, BU wouldn’t allow private dorms on campus. “We don’t have the land,” he says. “And what land we do have, we’re committed to building on ourselves.”

The University is authorized to build another residence with space for 500 beds between 10 Buick St. and 33 Harry Agganis Way (also known as StuVi1 and StuVi2), but that project is on hold.

“We’ll digest what we’ve already committed to up there and then see which way the wind is blowing,” Cusato says.

Robillard is less hesitant about the success of a possible StuVi3, paraphrasing a line from the baseball film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

Meanwhile, according to Cusato, BU will focus for at least the next four years on renovating existing residences.

The idea is to give older buildings “extreme makeovers,” Robillard says, updating elevators and other mechanical services, providing major facelifts to rooms. Built-in furniture would be ripped out; beds would be loft-friendly to give students more floor space.

One building renovation typically costs about $1.5 million, although that varies with size and ambition. Work already has begun along Bay State Road. A rehab of the west half of the Towers is scheduled for this summer. Claflin and Sleeper Halls in West Campus also are on the remodeling list.

By spiffing up residences and building a shiny new one, University officials hope to accomplish two related goals: stop students from straying off campus and fill vacant dorms and apartments. But the weakened state of the Boston housing market cuts against those efforts.

“The commercial real estate market is not doing well,” Cusato says. “The less expensive off-campus housing is, the more of a tendency for students to find their way to it.”

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter @lesliefriday.

More perspectives on the ins and outs of living on campus.

26 Comments

26 Comments on What Students Want in Housing

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 6:47 am

    I wonder why we’re raising tuition when we’re spending 1.5 million dollars on “extreme makeovers”!

    Obviously the money to pay the contractors that do these “extreme makeovers” comes from somewhere. Like gee, I don’t know- our tuition?

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 8:33 am

    $$

    A fancy new dorm (on top of the TWO we already have) isn’t going to keep me on campus. We need CHEAPER options, not new buildings that only bump up prices!

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 8:46 am

    BU administration confused

    uh, maybe on-campus housing is just too expensive for us students. Ever think of that, BU admin.?

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 9:23 am

    Costs

    Can’t you just be direct? “The less expensive off-campus housing the more…” That’s one roundabout way that kids not using dorms because it cost too much. Pretty much anybody, except for the few who wants more autonomy, wants to stay on campus, if they can afford it. The renovations make it even more desirable, but without money, unreachable. Lower the cost or freeze the cost for a few years and you’ll many more stick around.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 10:13 am

    Uptight policies about noise and alcohol (even for those of the legal drinking age) make on campus housing much less attractive. I have an apartment in StuVi 2 and love it (and will be living here again next year), but one of the best things about being off campus is being free from overly strict rules imposed by housing. Off campus, if you have a complaint from a neighbor you may get in trouble, but RAs are told that if they can hear noise outside the door it is too loud. The policy isn’t enforced very strictly in StuVi 2 (because the RAs aren’t jerks) but in Warren Towers, for example, RAs came around essentially hunting for noise and it felt like some of them enjoyed writing people up.

    Relax the rules, and more people will come back on campus. A 6 pack of beer or a liter of liquor? Really? Those two are not equitable. How about a liter and a case. Like almost every other school.

    Why does BU insist on doing things differently!? (and wrong)

  • Joby on 03.19.2010 at 10:13 am

    StuVi3

    I understand that there’s enough physical room between StuVi1 and StuVi2 to build StuVi3 but I’m against it being placed there. For starters, it would ruin the spectacular view of many of the rooms on the east side of StuVi2 who look out onto the Charles River. Secondly, the influx of new residents living on west campus would definitely overcrowd West dining hall. What do you guys think?

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 10:17 am

    I personally believe that housing is simply too expensive especially for grad students. So people move off campus. Plain and simple.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 10:18 am

    Off-Campus

    As a rising junior, I am moving off campus next year. My choice was not any of those listed above, although I am getting sick of dealing with security and the security check-in process.

    All of Boston University’s new plans for dorming and renovation takes place in the western most part of campus — an area in which I have absolutely NO interested in. I have been situated in Myles Standish for the past two years and have completely fell in love with “east campus”.

    Even though StuVi2 has its many reasons to live there, it has never even crossed my mind. So the renovation of West Campus, along with a brand new building in between StuVi1 and StuVi2 is not appealing whatsoever.

    I would have LOVED to stay on-campus next year, but my options are so limited that I did not want to take a chance receiving a low lottery number and being stuck in a location that I did not want.

    Why are there no new buildings or renovations in South or east campus? If there had been an option of a nice, renovated apartment-style dorm in South campus, I may have stayed on-campus. But there are very few of these dorms, and NONE OF THEM are renovated (I feel like I step back into the 70s when I take a peak into a South campus apartment).

    This is my suggestion to BU — why not try expanding the area in which new housing and renovations are taking place? South and East campus need just as much attention, especially to students like me.

    Best,
    Moving-To-Off-Campus-South

  • katiekoch on 03.19.2010 at 10:37 am

    Graduate Students

    I’ve known several grad students who have "shown up in the city with no idea where they’re going to be living,” and I don’t understand how BU is just now figuring that out. I don’t think the reason graduate students aren’t looking into BU housing options is because they all have spouses, kids, etc. It’s because graduate housing is WAY too expensive (more so than undergraduate housing in many cases) for grad students to afford unless they have a trust fund or are fully funded (and a fully funded grad student is rarer than a leprechaun at BU).

    If BU really wants to help its grad students, it will develop better outreach to incoming students. Many need help getting their bearings in a new city, especially BU’s many international grad students. Giving them a list of a few financially untenable housing options is not going to do it.

    I understand helping grad students find affordable apartments in Boston’s cheaper neighborhoods does not make BU money, but it’s the right thing to do.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 10:43 am

    …and part of this $1.5M per building (before considering the cost of builing StuVi3, of course) will go to the repair of all those leaks featured in yesterday’s article, right? Because water damage might be a more important concern than new furniture.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 10:46 am

    First off, off campus housing compared to on campus housing is much cheaper and gives students more freedom…Second off, BU denounces the idea of on campus fraternity housing, which is ridiculous. This basically pushes most frats to live in Allston, where trouble arises…BU knows this for sure…

  • Grad Student on 03.19.2010 at 11:07 am

    Grad student housing is more than double the price of what I have found off campus, and since I’m not studying a field that is going to be paying big wages after I graduate, I pinch every dollar that I put into school. Sure, it would be nice to live a little bit closer to campus, but not if I’m going to be paying back the rent via loans for 10 extra years. If they want to fill up those rooms and attract grad students, I believe that cost is, by far, the biggest factor to look into.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 11:16 am

    “But before anything could happen, officials had to address a key question: why aren’t students filling up all available on-campus space?”

    http://www.bu.edu/today/campus-life/2010/03/16/tuition-room-and-board-rise-3-65-percent

    silly question.

    it is cheaper to live in an apartment off-campus than it is to live in StuVi. the best way I can think for BU to bring students back to the dorms is for them not to be so goddamn expensive. and yes, I know, it is more complicated than just “lowering the price will fix all our problems!” because lowering cost of room/board will have its own consequences, etc. but really, it’s inevitable: students who want an apartment will do what’s cheapest, which generally means living off-campus.

    it is what it is.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 11:31 am

    Its really not a complicated question as to why BU housing isn’t always filled- it costs too much. The people that stay on campus are forced to because of scholarships or because they are studying abroad and think that it is too complicated to move off. The dining food is good, even great by dorm standards but not for $4000. So lets see a private bedroom, sharing a bathroom with one other person, in a renovated building for $850/month (which is still a lot by off campus prices) or $1500/month to be in west campus in a dorm that is super nice but feels like living in a hotel. How to make BU housing better? Build affordable dorms (more ideas like HER house?) and make dining plans optional- thats the reason I left after only sophomore year.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 12:09 pm

    why don’t we renovate the leaking and crumbling buildings we already have as opposed to building even more rooms when we can’t fill the ones there are?

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 12:52 pm

    I found this article to be very imformative, interesting, and relevant. Keep us updated!

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 1:23 pm

    Why are students filling up the available housing on campus?

    Because it’s way overpriced. It’s simple like that.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 1:36 pm

    in complete agreement

    I agree with you completely. I cannot even come close to affording the residence rates of a stuvi or stuvi2. I am forced to live in cheaper BU housing (but still expensive) which is below second rate. The result is that certain types of people live in these “high-rises” (the rich). And now the university wants to build a stuvi3 for more rich/elites.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 2:20 pm

    No, that’s where you’re wrong. For BU, if something does not make BU money, it’s never the right thing to do. So that is in fact the wrong thing to do.

    Welcome to the ethics of BU.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 2:21 pm

    Also, I don’t understand why my previous comment was censored, since it merely pointed out the relation between outrageous spending on new building projects and the increase of tuition. Apparently something about that is vulgar or inappropriate.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2010 at 5:30 pm

    The real issue is that BU dorms are incredibly expensive, and dive apartments in Allston are not. As the years go on and the cost of school builds up more and more, students are going to migrate off campus to save money.

  • Erik on 03.19.2010 at 5:42 pm

    Last Paragraph

    The last quoted paragraph answers it all!!!

  • Anonymous on 03.20.2010 at 12:06 pm

    Grad student housing

    As a funded graduate student, the university knows *exactly* how much I have to spend on housing. If they want me and other grad students to consider living on campus, they should make the housing fees commensurate with the stipend. Why would i spend $1200/month living on campus when I can get a wonderful room for half that in Allston.

    Also, I know this is a stupid place to complain, but all this money going into housing is nice, but what would be really nice is to put some of that money towards hiring new tenure-track faculty. This could increase course offering, decrease class size, and in the long run be much better for the undergrads’ education than swanky dorms.

  • Anonymous on 03.20.2010 at 2:38 pm

    BU Housing story.

    Student housing is a curse and a blessing.
    Is BU in the bicycle, house renting business or THE education business?
    Focus, focus – focus!

    Students keep the local rents high. Family’s are priced out when 5 kids get together and each pay $500 plus utilities, thought cheep compared to BU rents . . . but a BLESSING for the city or town who experiences no added students to local school classrooms. THUS the lack of enforcement of over housing of students. Which breeds Bed Bug and Roach filled housing and Allstons Party Central and THE college experience.

    IF BU LOWERS it’s rents . . . the private sector will do likewise. Right NoW, BU Housing is way too expensive, as is the private offerings.

  • Anonymous on 03.20.2010 at 2:41 pm

    Cost

    It’s the cost. I pay more to share a room with someone I’d never live with and share a bathroom with 20 others, than it costs to live at a nicer apartment a little further from campus. I’m in the cheapest housing option possible, and they are raising the rates for next year. Stop spending money on things no one needs, lower housing rates, and more kids will move back on campus. Can’t be that hard.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 8:45 am

    Dear Housing, If you are

    Dear Housing,

    If you are not filling up your dorms and apartments, I would suggest you open the empty space to Grad students as a routine offering.. say if you are a rising BU undergrad it should be an offer to those students first since they have already earned it as part of the BU system, then the offer go to Grad students who are entering BU for the first time….AND OFFER THE ROOM, BE IT DORM OR APARTMENT, AT THE SAME RATE THE UNDERGRAD PAYS. Lets face it…. you HAVE EMPTY ROOMS…FILL THEM! Let’s not be greedy. The Grad students don’t get much help anyway monitarily…STEP UP TO THE PLATE…it’s a WIN/WIN situation. BU helps the Grad Student, the Grad Student fills the void of the empty space…and the lost revenue if the space remained unfilled.

    To me, this should be a given practice. It’s a no brainer!

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