Northeastern University is proposing the addition of around 900 beds to two existing dorms due to over-enrollment last year while pledging to scale back enrollment beginning next school year in an effort to level off its student population.
Northeastern officials were on hand Wednesday, Feb. 16, at a virtual meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency to outline their plan to increase the occupancy of the 723-bed East Village residence hall by 207 beds for a total of 930 beds, as well as to increase the occupancy of the 1,200-bed International Village residence halls by 700 for a total of 1,900 beds.
To achieve this goal, certain single dorm rooms would be converted into doubles while some doubles would be made into triples. These proposed accommodations would be “consistent with student accommodations across the remainder of the campus,” according to Northeastern, and would be “compliant with applicable building codes.”
The additional beds would be added over the summer to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2022, and no modifications would be made to either of the dorm buildings, said school officials.
Northeastern is also assuring parents and students there would be no “surprise roommates,” and that “rates will be reflective of the corresponding unit type.”
John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community engagement, said the university is seeking to amend its Institutional Master Plan (IMP) to reflect the proposed expansion, which comes in response to last year’s increased enrollment caused largely by COVID.
“We realize and recognize that it’s an issue, and we’re seeking to [find a solution] on our campus,” said Tobin.
Viktorija Abolina, Northeastern’s associate vice president of campus planning and real estate, said the university had admitted an additional 1,000 students last year, accounting for a 17-percent increase in its student population.
With this also came an 8-percent increase in students requesting on-campus housing, she added, while the majority of the 11,000 students living on campus last year were first- and second-year students.
Meanwhile, Northeastern is also proposing a residence hall at 840 Columbus Ave. with accommodations for 800-plus upper-class students, said Abolina.
Despite Northeastern’s reassurances that the proposed expansion of the two existing dorms wouldn’t adversely affect students living there, Edward Orde, a fifth-year students who has lived in both East Village and International Village, was unconvinced.
“The rooms are already very small, and bringing in an extra bed, desk, and drawers could be tough in terms of safety,” said Orde, who also expressed concern on the impact that increasing the student population would have on the already-crowded dining halls and library.
Kathy Spiegelman, Northeastern’s vice president and chief of campus planning and development, responded they are aware that some dorm rooms are too small to accommodate any additional students. She said “what you’re experiencing in the dining halls and the library is what it’s like to have 1,000 more students” on campus.
“We’re now getting back to the population we had, and we’re hoping we don’t continue with this population growth,” said Spiegelman, adding that it would probably take a couple of years for the university’s enrollment number to return to its normal level, although no timeline had been set for this reduction in students.
As for the expansion’s potential impact on on-campus housing for students with disabilities, Spiegelman said, “We take that seriously, and we’re not going to reduce that.”
Marie Fukuda, a member of Northeastern’s IMP Citizens Advisory Committee, as well as a longtime resident of the Fenway, said she is pleased to hear that the university would begin reducing its enrollment next school year to get the student population back to its normal level.
Likewise, City Councilor Kenzie Bok said she really appreciates Northeastern’s commitment to reducing its enrollment, which is “so crucial to make sure we don’t have increased pressure on the neighborhoods.”
Richard Giordano, a member of the Northeastern University Task Force and director of policy and community planning for the Fenway CDC, said he believes that Northeastern is now stuck “between a rock and a hard place,” with the other option being students overcrowding Hillside Road and Calumet Street in Mission Hill, and Symphony Road and Westland Avenue in the Fenway.
“I think we have no good alternatives, and this is the better of the bad alternatives,” said Giordano.
Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, applauded Northeastern for trying to keep more underclassman on campus, but expressed concern about where they would live later on.
“What we need is some kind of workaround that protects housing for middle-class workers,” said Horn, adding that a student housing crunch would most affect workforce housing for 80-100 percent AMI (Area Median Income). “I really want to support you keeping students on campus for the first couple of years, but I want to see your plan for what happens after first the two years when they go on the open market,” he said.