Metro, Boston

‘Allston Christmas’ Leads To Traffic And Trash Yet Again

Emily O’Connor, a junior at Northeastern University, sat outside her former Allston residence in the sweltering heat on Monday, surrounded by her possessions.

“Today is what you’d anticipate—the whole city moving in and out on the same day,” O’Connor said of the day infamously known as “Allston Christmas.” The colloquial name refers to the numerous items—from TVs to furniture—left outside by former owners who see the used possessions as trash, or at least not worth hauling to their next residence. Often, these items are left in their wake for people to take or the City of Boston to clean up.

“It’s really frustrating we have to be out of here at a certain time, but can’t move into our new home until an hour later, so all of our stuff is piled out in the streets,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s scenario is representative of a larger problem facing the city—how to deal with the neighborhoods of Boston that are dominated by students.

Following a fire at an overcrowded off-campus residence that killed Binland Lee, a 22-year-old Boston University student, community activists demanded that colleges in Boston publicize the addresses of their off-campus students to enable the city to monitor living conditions—especially after the publication of a Boston Globe series in May that exposed rampant safety violations, including the repeated violation of a city rule that bans more than four full-time undergraduates from sharing a house or apartment.

Two weeks ago, the Boston City Council voted to require colleges with a presence in the city to provide a list of off-campus addresses where students are living—an effort to counter overcrowding and provide safe student housing.

Last Monday, as September began and thousands of students move in and out of off-campus housing in Allston, the neighborhood’s annual anti-holiday, was in full swing.

Along with the heaving piles of trash, Boston’s biggest move-in day is known for traffic congestion caused by the thousands of college students moving into their new homes.

“There are a lot of U-Haul trucks on the street that seem to be slowing down traffic and causing problems on this day,” Andranyk Stapana, a first-year student at Bay State College, said on Monday. “Now I’m afraid to take my car anywhere.”

The infamous Allston Christmas is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the City of Boston and major institutions—mainly Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Harvard University—have been trying to mitigate the event’s impact for the past five to six years, as the student population has skyrocketed in those areas, and many students are forced to share overcrowded apartments.

The movement is tied to the expansion of many universities within the area that date back to 1960. With a higher number of students comes a drastic increase in demand for housing and a subsequent increase in student population density in nearby neighborhoods like Allston.

This year, the mayoral administration tried to prioritize safety on Sept. 1. In his first year in office, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, deployed 50 workers from the Inspectional Service Department (ISD) this past weekend in heavily populated student areas, including Allston, Brighton, Fenway and Mission Hill, targeting random apartments and also housing with a history of violations, according to BostInno.

“All weekend we have been doing inspectional sweeps,” Walsh said at a news conference Monday afternoon outside of a rundown house in Allston. “It’s different this year, because we are working closely with colleges now. This week will help us establish housing safety for students and ultimately everyone.”

Part of Walsh’s increased security campaign is due to the problems associated with off-campus housing for students. Some landlords and tenants have resisted efforts to follow city housing codes, and students themselves say they are forced to share crowded apartments simply to afford the rent.

“There seem to be some two to three pages of violations with our home, and we don’t want these new issues to affect our studies,” said Pratik Singh, a biomedical engineering student at BU. “The authorities are doing a great job of taking care of the situation.”

This past weekend, the ISD found 120 housing violations and issued 1,100 tickets for code violations, as well as 21 tickets of $300 each for unsafe or unsanitary units, according to Walsh at Monday’s press conference.

“Some of the biggest problems we saw over the weekend were mice droppings, padlocks on rooms, a lack of smoke detectors, and obvious signs of mold and water leaks,” William Christopher, the commissioner of the Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, told The Heights. “Trash is also something that we are dealing with—a lot of people left a lot of debris here.”

In his first year as mayor, Walsh made improving the student move-in process a priority. He is seeking to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods like Allston, and make them not only cleaner, but safer for students in future years.

“The bottom line is that the city of Boston is being proactive,” he said. “We are getting on top of student housing now before the problem gets to become more dangerous. We will move swiftly, not just this weekend, but every weekend to address the problems of safety and the quality of life of all residents.”

Part of Walsh’s plan to clean up the neighborhoods of Boston includes making sure students are safe in these neighborhoods, where many residents include families with small children.

”I want students to know that we are going to be watching the neighborhoods to make sure you’re safe and that you’re going to be conducting yourselves properly,” he said. “We are not going to let what’s happened in the past happen this year.”

Massachusetts State Representative and Brighton resident Kevin G. Honan was also present at the news conference on Monday. Honan stressed that the world-class universities in Boston with over 250,000 students require stronger facilities.

“This is an extraordinary time in the life of the new students, and we as the city need to keep these students safe,” Honan said. “We have the best and the brightest in the country living in our neighborhood, so there is no reason why the people living here can’t join in with us and help keep our streets clean and safe.”

Looking to improve the move-in process for the future, Walsh explained that the ISD will attend orientations at local Boston colleges and universities, looking to educate students and officials on their rights and responsibilities for housing.

“Next year the mayor plans on making this process even better by hitting the ground running even earlier,” ISD commissioner Christopher told The Heights. “The universities are all on-board to work with us, so it’s up to us to make sure it makes the most sense so there is not so much disaster on one day.”

With the conclusion of another Allston Christmas, Walsh is hopeful about the progress he can continue to make in the years to come.

“I think we’ve had a pretty good weekend,” Walsh told The Heights. “There’s obviously going to be problems or bumps in the road, but in order to make this move-in process a little smoother in the future we are going to learn today from our actions and continue to improve each year.”

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

September 4, 2014