Faculty briefed on shortage of 500–600 grad dorm beds

Graduate Student Housing Working Group, led by Phil Clay, calls for new construction and leases

The Graduate Student Housing Working Group continues to solicit feedback on a January draft report, which says that the unmet demand for on-campus graduate student housing totals approximately 500–600 beds.

Phillip Clay PhD ’75, a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, former chancellor at MIT, and chair of the Working Group, announced these initial findings at the Institute faculty meeting last Wednesday. Clay also shared the Working Group’s initial suggestions to address the shortage and improve graduate student housing through new construction and leases from the private market.

Responding to concerns that new development in the Kendall Square area will ignore a housing squeeze in Cambridge, MIT officials involved in the planned revamp of east campus have often cited the Working Group as evidence of MIT’s commitment to addressing housing needs.

The Working Group determined the unmet demand by examining the waitlist for graduate housing as well as a survey of graduate students housed on and off campus.

Approximately 38 percent of graduate students live on campus at present. “We believe that rents in the surrounding area will continue to go up in coming years,” Clay said. “There will be a decrease in the availability of affordable housing units, leading to an increase in demand for graduate student housing.”

The Graduate Student Housing Working Group was convened by MIT to evaluate the current usage of graduate student housing, as well as student satisfaction with housing. The Group’s primary objectives were to look at the ways current graduate housing does or does not meet the Institute’s needs and to determine opportunities for improvement going forward.

Survey data revealed a “high level” of graduate student satisfaction with on-campus housing, with some exceptions.

International students and students with families felt “less well served and more constrained in their options,” according to Clay’s presentation. “International students can’t come before moving here to look for housing,” Clay elaborated. These families also struggle according to Clay because “in some cases the spouse may not have a legal right to work in the U.S., and a married student can’t just take in roommates to help alleviate costs.”

Graduate students housed in Tang, Edgerton, and Westgate also reported greater dissatisfaction. Clay pointed out that Tang and Westgate are targeted for renovations in the near future.

The housing survey was also sent to applicants who were admitted to an MIT graduate program but decided not to attend. A higher percentage of these individuals than current MIT graduate students said that housing was an important factor in deciding where to attend.

Clay said the Working Group explored options for expanding graduate housing besides the obvious option to build more units. The Group recommended adding 500–600 beds in graduate housing, either by constructing new apartments (non-traditional dorms) with units ranging from micro-units to 1–2 bedroom units, or by leasing from the private market. In the Q-and-A session following the presentation, Clay affirmed that MIT had leased housing units in the past and that it would be an option in the future. The group ruled out other options, such as providing graduate students with cash subsidies to lease from the private market.

Clay also saw a need to explore mixed-use housing options. “Special places around the world are often mixed-use,” Clay said, emphasizing the Group’s view that graduate student housing could contribute to the goal of turning east campus — MIT’s corner of Kendall Square — into a “strong ‘place’ with an MIT identity.”

In addition to the 500–600 beds of graduate student housing required, the Working Group said that the Institute will need 400 beds of “swing space” to accommodate students, while several residence halls, including Tang and Westgate, are being renovated. The Working Group predicted that even when renovations finished, the 400 beds of swing space could still be used before the end of the decade to meet growing demand for graduate student housing as the market in Cambridge continues to become more constrained.

Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 said in an email to faculty that the Working Group’s final report would be issued “in the mid-spring.”