Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boston’s lack of accessibility for affordable housing is impacting graduate students

Yufei Meng
According to Zumper’s January 2024 national rent report, Boston has the third-highest 1-bedroom median rent prices. (Yufei Meng/Beacon Staff)

Having a slanted floor that causes his chair to roll while watching TV is one of the quirks in Alan Geiss’s historic house in Harvard Square. This, coupled with his six roommates bickering in the group chat on any given day, is the price Geiss pays for affordable housing in the city. 

“I just don’t want to be at home, [and] I’d rather go study somewhere else,” Geiss, a strategic marketing communication graduate student, said.  “Home is not home anymore. It’s a little hole that I guess I should feel lucky to be at. You weigh these pros and cons, and you’re always a dissatisfied customer with no option.” 

In Zillow’s breakdown of the rental market in Boston, the median rent price for a one-bedroom apartment or condo is $2,764. For graduate students like Geiss, who are not offered on-campus housing, attending Emerson means living nearby—and making sacrifices. 

When Geiss first moved to Boston, he lived in the attic of a house in Cambridge. Geiss recalled the overgrown weeds in the front lawn, the noise from downstairs when his landlord’s friends would visit, and the lack of a fire escape. 

“Home is something you’re lucky to have, but you don’t feel lucky to be in because it’s just not safe,” Geiss said. “It literally was not safe.” 

A recent 2023 housing report released by the Boston Foundation analyzed that the city’s rent prices continue to rise annually, placing the Boston metro area third highest in the country for places to rent.

For second-year creative writing graduate student Grayson Pitt, he found his first apartment by joining a Facebook group for queer people in the city. But that apartment did not come without its challenges. His commute from Waltham to campus varied from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the bus schedule. 

“It feels weird to say that it’s draining because once you’re on the bus, you’re just sitting there, but after such a long day, all you want to do is get home and decompress,” Pitt said. “By the time I got home … I just wanted to collapse into my bed.” 

When his lease expired on Aug. 31, Pitt spent an additional six months trying to find a new apartment closer to campus. As months went by, Pitt raised his budget because there weren’t any options at his price point that panned out. He now lives in Allston with his sister and a past roommate, but the rent price doubled from his previous living situation. 

“It was a minefield, and it takes a ridiculous amount of patience and persistence to actually find something,” Pitt said, having moved into his new apartment on Sept. 1. 

Even still, he feels the only reason he secured his current apartment is because his sister is friends with other tenants in the building.

“At some point, you have to either risk keeping going and not having something secured by Sept. 1, or just bite the bullet and do it,” Pitt said. “I had to bite the bullet because I wasn’t willing to keep going through this process with no other secure leads.” 

While apartment hunting, Pitt considered living in his parents’ basement in their house on Cape Cod and making the over hour and a half commute to campus.

“It’s a brutal climate,” Pitt said. “I had so many sleepless nights and moments of anxiety trying to figure out if I would have a house in Boston.”

Pitt hopes to stay in his current apartment for the remainder of his time at Emerson—so long as the rent doesn’t increase. 

“It’s a grueling process and you end up having to make so many sacrifices to put a roof over your head,” Pitt said. “It’s pretty bleak.” 

Strategic marketing and communications graduate student Sofia Moreira navigated the housing market as an international student, finding her first apartment while overseas. When looking online for housing, she got scammed by the real estate agency she was going through. The landowner required the security deposit and first month’s rent upfront and then started requiring additional charges not outlined in the contract. Moreira decided to back out. 

“It was very overwhelming,” Moreira said. “Especially being from outside, you don’t know who to trust, what to trust,” she said. “Graduate students are a little bit lost on how to navigate, especially international students. If I had a little extra help from the university, that would have been better.”

Emerson offers a three-year housing agreement for undergraduate students but does not offer housing for graduate students. The Student Transitions office offers an off-campus housing website linked to apartments.com to help students. Part of the website allows students to post their information and living preferences to find potential roommates from other schools in the Boston area. 

“It’s great to come to Boston. It’s a major city, but that also means major rent prices,” Assistant Director of Student Transitions and Family Programs Chelsea Jackson Jones said. “There is a graph that I use often that regardless of where we sit, we’re usually in the top five of most expensive cities.” 

The office also hosts workshops that inform students about navigating the housing market in Boston and approaching conversations with real estate agents. 

“It is a struggle for graduate students, and it is something we’re working on,” Jackson Jones said. “I’m happy to help as much as I can.”

After being scammed, Moreira found housing in Brighton and lived with two roommates, evenly splitting the $3,150 rent and an additional $20 each for gas and electricity. Moreira paid an additional $300 for an MBTA semester pass for her 40-minute commute to campus each way. She now lives in a studio apartment near North Station with her boyfriend, each of them paying $1,400. They pay an additional $60 a month for electricity, a cost that increases to $200 in the winter. Depending on her career track, Moreira is unsure if she will renew her lease when the contract ends in August.

“I don’t know if they’re going to raise the rents for the renewal of the contract,” Moreira said. “And if they do, maybe we’re going to look for something else because it’s very expensive.” 

In her State of the City Address earlier this month, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu addressed initiatives the city council is taking to increase housing accessibility. She announced the ADU program, which is designed to expand affordable housing options by allowing homeowners to create independent housing units on their property.

“The whole system is rigged to where there is no great building that provides an affordable experience,” Geiss said. “The great buildings are unaffordable. They’re not for graduate students. They’re for people well into their careers making crazy amounts of money.” 

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About the Contributor
Bridget Frawley, Staff Writer
Bridget Frawley (she/her) is a freshman journalism major from Jupiter, Florida. When she is not writing for the news section, she is a morning anchor for Mornings with George Knight of WERS 88.9 FM. She also loves reading, going on long walks, and thrifting.

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