Tuesday, February 26, 2008

BRA Board Votes to Limit Apartments to Four or Fewer Students

In an unannounced appearance at the conclusion of the Allston Brighton Green Gathering, Councilor Michael Ross of Mission Hill delivered the news that the BRA Board voted earlier in the day in favor of limiting apartment occupancy in Boston to four or fewer students.

Councilor Ross submitted the petition to change the definition of a "family" under the city's Zoning Code that would exclude groups of "five or more students enrolled at or attending a post-secondary educational institution" from being able to live together in a single housing unit. The city's previous definition of "family" was overruled by a 2003 court decision and subsequent consent decree, which meant that landlords could rent to larger groups of students during the past five years than previously allowed.

The Boston City Council has already unanimously approved Councilor Ross's petition. The next and final step for approval will be an appearance before the city's Zoning Board on March 12th. Councilor Ross said that opponents to his proposal -- I'm guessing that these include the Small Property Owners of America -- have put out the call to appear in large numbers at the upcoming Zoning Board meeting.

The most surprising detail was that many of the city's institutions of higher education have come out in favor of his proposal. After the event, Councilor Ross stated Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Massachusetts College of Art, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and Suffolk University were all backing his proposal. He also noted that several other prominent institutions were considering supporting the proposal, including Simmons College, Boston University, and Boston College.

Councilor Ross also noted that the Greater Boston Legal Services, who had brought the court challenge to the previous definition of a "family" under the Zoning Code, were now supporting Ross's petition.

The Allston-Brighton TAB already filed their story about how the BRA Board is soon to vote on the issue. I think they've got a day or two to add to their story before deadline... Their story provides interesting background from last week's meeting of the Allston Civic Association (ACA):
Many other cities and towns regulate the number of occupants a housing unit may have.
At the Green Gathering, Councilor Ross noted that Newton had similar problems with over-crowded, off-campus student housing and pass an ordinance much like Ross's proposal. The Newton ordinance, he said, was successfully defended in court.

The TAB article continued:
Ross said some neighborhoods, including Brighton, have an overabundance of students. Students will move to areas with more space for them as a result of the proposal.

Enforcement of the law would be complaint-driven; for example, if a neighbor reports a lot of occupants in a house with nightly parties to the Inspectional Services Department.

Ross said 99 percent of the people who support the proposal are from the community, whereas 99 percent of those who oppose it work in real estate. The ACA supports it.

A-B City Councilor Mark Ciommo said, “A-B is unique because we have so many students living off-campus, and I believe this amendment would help reduce problems with overcrowding and quality of life in these neighborhoods.” He also said it would alleviate problems associated with absentee landlords.
The meeting of the Zoning Board will be on March 12, 2008, at 9:00 am, in Room 900 on the 9th Floor of Boston's City Hall.


SandyF said...

I too was at the meeting and Michael, as usual, has it exactly right.

I personally view this proposed legislation as absolutely vital towards taking back our neighborhood from the absentee investors who have turned so much of our housing stock into rooming houses, often for as many as 8-10 students per rental unit, with all the attendant noise, litter, and other issues.

Councilman Ross emphasized that powerful real estate interests are busy lobbying the council, and also doing their best to frighten home owners into opposing what the real estate people are characterizing as an infringement on their rights as homeowners.

It is critical that all of us who support this bill physically attend the March 12th hearing, to counter the anticipated turnout of the opponents.

I am pleased to note that newly elected Councilman Mark Ciommo not only was present, but made a point of introducing Councilman Ross, and gave every indication that he supports this bill.

I hope to see as many of you as possible at the hearing.

Sandy Furman

Unnamed Witness said...

Unless there is real enforcement, this legislation is useless. Don't hold your breath.