Celene Chen is a fourth year Economics major and Women’s Gender Sexuality Studies minor who has focused her research at the intersections of these two fields. As a student of Dr. Moya Bailey, Assistant Professor and Member of the CSDI Advisory Council, she expanded her national research on housing affordability in urban neighborhoods to study Mission Hill and Northeastern’s impact on rent costs. In Dr. Bailey’s class on Gender, Race, and Medicine, Celene co-hosted a podcast episode titled “How Boston Institutions Impact the Health of Neighborhoods: Tufts Medical Center and Northeastern University” to explain how housing unaffordability in Mission Hill is a pressing topic given the relationship between housing costs and health. By connecting economics concepts and quantitative methods with topics of gender and racial equity, Celene focuses on issues that impact marginalized groups.
Celene’s initial national research found how universities and professional workers decrease housing affordability for renters. The national study covered the urban neighborhoods of Boston, San Francisco, Austin, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland, New Orleans, Charlotte, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, Detroit, and Los Angeles from 2005-2015. Housing affordability was specific to renters and deemed unaffordable when a renter would have to spend more than 30% of their income on the average rent of the neighborhood. She found that a 1% increase in college students in these cities’ neighborhoods correlated with a 2.05% decrease in housing affordability. Additionally, when the neighborhood saw a 1% increase in high-paying professional workers, there was correlated a 0.5% decrease in housing affordability. The main finding in the national study of neighborhoods in a dozen cities is that typical gentrifiers- college students and high-paid professionals- reduce housing affordability for renters.
The focus on Mission Hill, which has become a university neighborhood with Northeastern’s large off-campus population, was chosen because university neighborhoods have higher rates of women-headed households along with poverty, unemployment, and people of color. The relationship between Northeastern college students and Mission Hill is especially pressing because the area is 100% unaffordable for low-income renters and housing affordability has been strained by Northeastern’s increased enrollment and large off-campus student population. In 2010, 50% of Northeastern students lived off-campus, and in 2012 Northeastern’s off-campus population was 27% of Boston’s total off-campus student population. Celene found that Northeastern’s investment in academic buildings and campus footprint in the late 1980’s through the early 2000’s was in line with Northeastern’s plan to becoming a highly-ranked private university with a large student body. However, the university neglected to build adequate amount of student housing for the student body and pushed those costs into the private housing market. Celene will continue her examination of this topic this semester in her Senior Capstone project on how segregation impacts the concentration of poverty in Boston neighborhoods.