Op-ed: Stop Roxbury gentrification by opposing LightView 2.0 

The+LightView+office+at+840+Columbus+Avenue.

Dylan Shen

The LightView office at 840 Columbus Avenue.

Julianna Milidantri, contributor

When you think of what you need from Northeastern, what is it? Maybe real mental health support, healthier meal plan options or reduced tuition. What students do not need are new luxury dorms. 

Northeastern University plans to build another luxury dorm at 840 Columbus Avenue in 2022, further gentrifying Roxbury and failing to offer its students affordable housing options. 

The current plan for the dorm includes 810 bed spaces, with bed space pricing anticipated to be quite comparable to LightView, the cheapest option there coming in at a hefty $1,374 per month. The dorm will be built and contracted by American Campus Communities, a real-estate development company hired by the university to avoid exorbitant building costs and allow a multi-billion dollar corporation to augment its wealth. Northeastern will profit by at least, if not much more than, $13 million per year in student “rent” — more plainly, extortion. 

Students do not need more luxury dorms. The vast majority of us need affordable housing options that allow us to continue our education without adding several digits to our loans. Northeastern’s cheapest dorms are often infested by rats and mold, and still cost over $900 a month; students can find comparable or cheaper rents in Roxbury, with far better conditions and freedom from residential life rules and proctors. With first and second-year students required to live on campus, predatory loan companies force students to take out larger loans than needed. These student loans offer the illusion that these dorms are affordable options; in reality, paying exorbitant prices for housing only contributes to the student loan crisis and buries Northeastern graduates in more and more debt after attending a university fully capable of drastically decreasing rents. Even if this dorm is filled exclusively by wealthy students, it is still not good for the Roxbury community, nor should university housing ever cost so much.

Northeastern has more than enough resources and money to spend its time improving the housing it already possesses. The university expects to have a $28.5 million surplus at the conclusion of fiscal year 2020, despite the pandemic. Further gentrifying the Roxbury community with a shiny, new dorm that many students cannot afford, and which none of them asked for, is an unnecessary evil perpetrated by the university in a thinly-veiled money grab. 

Roxbury residents will also experience the detrimental repercussions of this luxury dorm. The housing crisis in Boston, before and during COVID, is tragic and pressing. This dorm would increase the market rate rental prices of buildings in Roxbury and push out its native residents. The university’s excuse for this construction is to create more bed spaces in order to give back a number of its leased properties in Fenway to the Boston community; this does nothing to help Roxbury residents, who would find these properties unaffordable. Students, community members and the mayor should unapologetically push for 840 Columbus Avenue to become a green, affordable, and union-built public housing complex for community members in need. 

I was appalled during a virtual Boston Planning and Development Agency meeting in January, when a Northeastern representative was more concerned with what type of vendors could occupy the first floor of the building rather than addressing the serious issues community members brought forth. One task force member reminded the attendees that when the university expands into communities, the NU Campus Police naturally enters those communities as well. Bringing the Campus Police further into Roxbury is not something the community needs or wants. 

How can Northeastern begin to right its wrongs, aside from canceling its plans to build this luxury dorm? The university should begin with a renewed commitment to its payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. Northeastern, and most universities, retain nonprofit status, which means they are not required to pay property taxes to the city. The city requests, with no enforcement, that nonprofits such as Northeastern pay 25% of the taxes to which they are exempt. A staggering 70% of the city’s revenue in fiscal year 2020 came from property taxes, meaning this loophole has disastrous consequences. A university should not make massive profits at the expense of its students while cowering behind nonprofit status. 

No one benefits from this dorm other than the Northeastern administration. It will continue to exploit its students for every last dime, while maintaining a careless attitude toward the neighborhoods it pervasively gentrifies. 

Students deserve better from the university to which they pay $54,360 in tuition. Community members deserve to live affordably. We must demand more from Northeastern University. A movement against the luxury dorm is already on the rise, organized by groups including Northeastern Socialist Alternative, Northeastern Young Democratic Socialists of America, Northeastern Sunrise, Boston Socialist Alternative, NU for the Common Good and more. 

Get involved by signing the petition here or you can visit the Facebook page @Stopthelux for the Fight the Luxury dorm campaign to get involved! 

Julianna Milidantri is a first-year biology and political science major and a member of Boston Socialist Alternative. She can be reached at [email protected]