Last week, the Boston Globe Spotlight Team published an investigative series under the title “Shadow Campus.” The pieces focused on what they called “a collision of greed, neglect, and mismanagement” at the core of Boston’s housing quagmire in which young people live in squalor for outrageous rents while edging out the working class.
I feel I’m both a victim and a perpetrator of this violence. I moved to Allston during college, paid too much for what I got, had to wait for a month to get my heat and appliances fixed. I lived a street away from where Binland Lee died, blocks from other fires with less tragic outcomes. But I could afford to pay too much. And to eventually move. I didn’t know it then, but I contributed to the continued displacement of immigrant families.
What happened in Allston is happening in neighborhoods across Greater Boston. And it seems that the city is struggling to identify a central villain: it’s the slumlords who put students in danger; it’s the students who drive prices sky high; it’s outside developers buying up homes. And of course, it’s the universities, which conveniently lack enough on-campus housing for the number of students they accept. Needless to say, these huge “nonprofit” institutions need to invest in the communities that literally surround them; until administrators act like better neighbors, students will suffer and longtime residents will continue being displaced.
There are hard-working community-based organizations that represent working-class families, people of color, and students, but Boston needs a benevolent umbrella tenant federation to demand cooperation on all fronts. As for the city’s role, as the Globe series showed and Mayor Marty Walsh has already begun to do, it’s clear the Hub has to push penalties on negligent building owners. We also need an organization that operates outside of municipal government to mediate housing disputes. It seems like everyone is part of the problem, so everyone should be part of the solution.