Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Do BC Students Behave Well in Off-Campus, Large Apartment Buildings?

Father William Leahy, S. J., President of Boston College, recently told Boston Herald reporters and editors in a meeting that "larger apartment buildings which also host numbers of BC students rarely encounter the same kind of problems" as found in 1- or 2-family houses occupied by students.

For those unclear what those "problems" are, according to the Herald, Fr. Leahy said they are the "ones with absentee landlords and no one to ride herd over student behavior or those weekend parties." The Boston Globe editorial board is more direct: "The students have a well-earned reputation for hard drinking and loud partying."

Do BC students in large, off-campus apartment buildings really behave so much better than those off-campus students in 1- and 2-family houses, as Fr. Leahy claims?

Testing the Leahy Hypothesis

In a meeting earlier this year, a BC official stated that around 40% of the residents of the apartment tower at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton are BC undergraduate students. Sounds like a good test case for the "Leahy Hypothesis" -- that the students would be comparatively well-behaved in a tall, off-campus building.

A quick trip to "apartmentratings.com" produces 20 resident-supplied ratings for the apartment complex, only 20% of which would recommend the apartments to someone wanting to rent. Out of all the apartments listed when entering zipcode "02135" and having more than one review, 2000 Commonwealth Avenue comes out in last place in the user-ratings.

The written comments on the website are disturbing and describe an awful living experience:
"Noisy and worse...": Almost any night of the week parties can spill into the halls. It is literaly threating to have such drunkin people wandering loudly around the building.

"I wasted $54,000 over the last 2 years": But over the last year and a half management seems to have lost control. I now paying top dollar to live in the "ANIMAL HOUSE". If you like to party all night and don't plan on sleeping for your entire stay here then move on in. Otherwise, stay away. I'm "OUT OF HERE ASAP"!!!

"It is a dorm!": Now for the negative, it is a dorm! Most of the building is BC students that love to party and don't care a whole lot if they blast thier bass all night long! Keg parties, beers in the elevator, students running up and down the hallway, breaking things. Trash left in halls, puke in the elevator.

"Stay Away from This 'Luxury' Dorm!!!": This is a real DORM for spoiled boston college kids... If you are older than 21 and have a job - STAY AWAY from this place. IT IS NIGHTMARE!!! All that bs below about "couple bad apples" is simply NOT true. Come and see by yourself after 10pm on Friday or Saturday.

"Noisy Dorm": The sole problem (and it's a BIG problem) is with some of the BC students. The few bad apples made living in the building unbearable. They had loud parties to all hours of the night, left garbage where ever they felt like it and generally had no respect for their neighbors. Most of the BC students were not like that, but because such a huge portion of the residents are BC students, the small percentage of "bad apples" made up a fairly sizable group.

"Stay Away... Really": I also warn parents that are considering a lease for their precious indulged babies that this is a building infested with unruly parties. I wish could show a video of the drunken idiots in the halls.

"BAD": Biggest mistake of my life. I am going to have to break my lease...late night parties..vomit on floors...beer cans on elevator floors...just a few of the problems...not LIKE a dorm...WORSE than a dorm..
It goes on.

But one person seems to think otherwise:
"Pool and Parking!!!! And an ATM...": Any time there has ever been a noise complaint (and maybe I've only had 2...same as any other building I've ever lived in) the 24 hour concierge responds immediately and the noise stops within 5 minutes.
though "Pool and Parking" seems to be drowned out by all the spilled beer in the other reports of hard partying.

I think the evidence is sufficient to reject the Leahy Hypothesis. I am convinced: I'll never move there.

Maybe Fr. Leahy ought to spend some quality time with his charges at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue before making such claims. And the editorial board of the Boston Herald might think about fact-checking their interviewee's claims prior to publication.

Why Would Fr. Leahy Make Such a Claim?

Why would a prominent BC official be making a claim that seems, in retrospect, at least a bit divorced from reality? As part of their institutional master plan, BC has proposed to house an additional 610 undergraduate students on-campus -- but leave another 600 or so undergraduate students still living off-campus. Something still needs to be done about those other 600 off-campus, partying students.

BC's idea seems to be that, by restricting those remaining off-campus students from living in 1- or 2-family houses, they will not cause the neighbors to complain endlessly about the partyers next door. (Their off-campus, restricted-housing proposal has been presented at meetings, but not formally in any document.)

Here's an even more cynical idea: BC thinks that all they have to do is move the students out of the particular neighborhoods with the most complainers. At Brighton community meeting after community meeting, the complaining neighbors are typically from the Radnor Road area (including upper Foster Street, Lane Park, and Kirkland Road) or the Lake Street area (including Undine Road and Caltha Road). I've looked at many lists of attendees, and they just don't come from 2000 Commonwealth Avenue. The meeting attendees come from the streets listed above -- themselves living in 1- and 2-family houses, mostly not big apartment buildings.

Why don't community attendees come from such large apartment buildings? Non-student renters in such buildings are typically, albeit not exclusively, residents who are more "transient," i.e., they often move every year or two. They may live in Brighton this year, but last year they were in Allston, and two years from now they might be in Jamaica Plain. Such renters are, on average, younger, may not know much about the neighborhood, be less likely to know who to complain to (at the city, police, or BC), be unclear on what their rights are regarding noise disturbances, etc. They could potentially also fear retribution from residents in the same building.

It's a common issue probably faced by many communities: community activists tend to be of a certain age. Twenty-somethings just aren't a regular part of community meetings, even though they constitute such a large fraction of our neighborhood's residents.

In the end, BC's proposal for restricting students' off-campus options sure looks to be pitting one part of the neighborhood (residents who live in 1- or 2-family houses) against another (residents who live in larger apartment buildings). We'll see if the neighborhood takes the bait. I bet they don't.

Compare Off-Campus and On-Campus Behavior

In the most bizarre aspect of this story, BC officials have been presenting the case for the on-campus housing in their master plan using the opposite argument.

Time after time, the community has been told that on-campus BC students behave worse in tall dormitories, but better in housing with four stories (or fewer). BC officials insist on not increasing the height of the undergraduate dormitories on their Main Campus using this argument despite plea after plea from the neighbors.

Why would these students behave poorly in a tall, on-campus dorm -- but magically behave better in a tall, off-campus apartment building? As described above, at least one tall, off-campus apartment -- without resident advisors, BC police, or patrolling campus officials -- seems to be quite a problem, so claiming otherwise is just a sleight-of-hand.

But put the same building on campus, add back in the resident advisors, police, and officials, institute an alcohol policy, and... voila! Common sense dictates that it could only be better on-campus, not worse. But, then again, why would we want to listen to common sense?


nme said...

Reading tis made me think of studies that have compared the behavior of tenants in the huge hi-rise public housing projects with those in smaller, mixed projects. Does living in an oversized building create an depersonalized, anonymous atmosphere? Does that lead to a break down of social controls?

I haven't read the studies for some time now, but I wonder if they have any relevance to the over-sized dorms.

Michael Pahre said...

Good point!

I would be interested to see some of such studies. They may not necessarily be applicable, however, since the nature of the living arrangements (many upper-income students off-campus vs. low-income public housing) may be different.

amartin said...

This really is a breakthough article. College students have parites! Who knew??

Rob said...

Twenty people that went to a website to complain is far too small a sample size to convincingly disprove Father Leahy's claim here. Even if you're hypothetically correct anyway, if BC forced off-campus students into high-rise buildings, it's very reasonable to assume that less non-college folks would move in there given the notice of BC's policy which would effectively confine BC's off-campus students away from the established residents and families most affected by their presence. Seems like a solid win for the "community."

wrightwb said...

Does the "600 students left off campus" figure take into account the fact that a large number of BC students go abroad for all or part of their junior year?
Also, what about the fact that after the Master Plan is complete, BC will house a greater percentage of its students on campus than any other college or university in Boston? It seems to me that shooting for 100% on campus is completely unfeasible. Some students are going to go abroad, some are just going to want to live off campus, etc. It's like trying to achieve 0% unemployment: it's never going to happen and may sound like a good idea in theory, but would actually hurt the economy.

Michael Pahre said...

Yes, the students who go abroad for part or all of their junior year are already accounted for.

When BC states that they will be housing 92% of their students on-campus if their proposed master plan in its current version were to be approved, they have already excluded the students studying abroad. If those students were to be included (which would be silly), then they would be housing only around 88%.

Long and short of it is: BC's plan moves 600 students onto campus, but leaves another 600 students living off-campus.

amartin said...

well 600 isn't a very large number in a neighborhood as big as Brighton. And maybe if the neighbors didn't fight every dorm BC tries to build, whether it be on the Archdiocese property or on Shea field, BC would be able to house more kids. The way they speak out of both sides of their mouths is astounding

Laura Shachmut said...

I think it's worth noting that a lot of the Archstone comments were made 5 or 6 years ago. The building has new management, which I understand has been well received. I'm sure there are still parties, but I also think that the comments made by previous residents may be a little outdated