The Boston Globe

It’s not a dorm, but school rules apply


The new six-story building on Commonwealth Avenue wasn’t built to be a dorm. But during the last week, 180 Boston University students have moved in.

The arrangement is part of a two-year deal BU made with the building’s developer to lease out the space as student housing. It’ll be like any other dorm, complete with RAs and university housing rules, while BU renovates its Myles Standish Hall in Kenmore Square. Once those upgrades are complete, the plan is for 1047 Commonwealth Ave. to go back on the city’s rental market.

Emerson College is eyeing a similar deal in the Fenway while it renovates a dorm downtown. And Boston College this summer converted an apartment tower it owns in Brighton into a dorm, part of a plan to make up for student housing it’s tearing down for a new recreation center.

Call it a side effect of Boston’s student housing boom.

As schools get to work on the 3,500 new dorm rooms the Walsh Administration has approved in the last two years, construction is knocking some of their existing dorms out of commission. So they’re cutting deals with developers and landlords to put students in regular apartments, for now at least.

It’s a temporary fix, they promise, but one that has some housing advocates nervous in a city where the rental market is so tight that every apartment seems precious.

“This neighborhood doesn’t need any more student housing,” said Rich Giordano, a community organizer at the Fenway Community Development Corp., which is opposing Emerson’s plan. “We’d much rather see that building used as mixed, open-market housing.”

Off-campus student housing isn’t unusual in one of the nation’s biggest college towns. BU has long put students in hotels when its dorms overflow. A handful of schools rent a few dozen apartments here and there. But taking large buildings, whole, would be a new development.

At 1047 Commonwealth Ave., on the western edge of BU’s campus in Allston, Cambridge-based developer Urban Spaces LLC just finished converting an old office building into 180 “micro-units” — 300- to 400-square-foot studios each with a full kitchen and hardwood floors. Their plan, said CEO Paul Ognibene, had been to market the apartments to graduate students, young professionals, and others who wanted a place in the city but couldn’t quite afford new buildings downtown.

Then BU came calling.

The university needed a place to put students during the two-year update of Myles Standish Hall, and knew the Commonwealth Avenue building was set to open this summer.