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Off-campus rents rise sharply

By Mauricio Roman

Rents for off-campus apartments have increased sharply in recent years, according to Housing Services Manager Linda L. Patton.

The Cambridge Tab reported that rents nearly doubled in the past decade. The average rent in Cambridge was $600 in 1988, according to research done by the Cambridge Home Hunting Guide. A study done by the Harvard University housing department in 1978 reported that the average market rent was $325 for that year.

One reason rents have increased so rapidly is that the number of units not subject to rent-control has significantly decreased, Patton said. Patton believed that conversion of rental units to condominiums, coupled with the low rate of rental housing construction in the city, has been the main cause for this decline.

"It is difficult to predict whether or not the trend of rate increases will continue in the future," Patton said. While condo conversions have decreased, the demand for housing in the Boston area remains very strong, Patton added.

Rental costs in the Boston area are still increasing faster than in the rest of the country. During the past year, rental costs have increased by 3.8 percent nationally and by 5.6 percent in the Greater Boston Area, according to The Boston Globe.

During the same period, Cambridge had the highest rents in the area, followed by Brookline, Boston, Watertown and Somerville, according to figures compiled by the Housing and Food Services Department.

Despite the high costs, most MIT students living off-campus prefer to live in Cambridge. "Students prefer to live near campus. While rents are lower farther away from MIT, there are costs associated with commuting," Patton said. Over the past three years, the distribution of MIT students among towns in the metropolitan area has not changed significantly. "Students are just becoming more creative -- such as sharing bedrooms in an apartment," Patton said.

Demand for on-campus housing has steadily exceeded supply for the past several years. According to Graduate Student Council President Scott Y. Peng G, around 20 percent of all graduate students live on-campus, while 50 percent want to. Living on-campus is not only more convenient but cheaper as well, since on-campus rents are kept at 90 percent of the average market rent, according to Patton.

In response to the large demand for on-campus housing, MIT decided to convert a building it owns on Albany Street into a graduate dormitory. The new dorm will probably house 180 students, Patton said.

"The dorm will alleviate some of the pressure from students to live on-campus," Peng said. "However," he added, "it might make MIT's administration feel that it has done enough. MIT should always regard building adequate housing for its students a priority."