British developer backs off student housing plans for Boston

Oct. 7, 2019
Scape North America had proposed spending $1 billion on student housing in Boston, but now wants to build apartments for the general population.

A year after announcing plans for $1 billion worth of privately run student housing in Boston, the British student-housing developer Scape is going in a different direction: away from students.

The Boston Globe reports that Scape North America is filing revised plans with the city for three buildings, which no longer will be intended for college students. The buildings will have more than 1,300 apartments, but they’ll target the city’s general population.

It’s a notable shift for a developer whose parent company runs private student housing buildings in the United Kingdom and Australia and planned a similar approach in the United States, with Boston as its beachhead. But after opposition from those living near the proposed apartments and a closer look at the market, Scape decided its strategy on this side of the Atlantic should be to aim for an urban middle class in dire need of housing.

Scape will revamp its plan for a building at 1252 Boylston St., initially intended to hold 533 residents in dormitory-style rooms, to accommodate 477 open-market apartments, in a mix of sizes.

Another site it controls, at 819 Beacon St., would feature 445 market-rate apartments, plus “Corey House” — 50 units of patient-family housing in partnership with Children’s hospital.

A third project, at 2 Charlesgate West, would become a tower about 14 stories tall, with 220 affordable-housing units. The lower would be floors set aside for housing run by one of the nearby hospitals or universities.

Andrew Flynn, chief executive of Scape North America, says the new proposal is a direct response to neighbors who objected to the initial plan, which would have put an enormous residence hall on Boylston Street where city zoning expressly forbids student housing.

The developer and some of its supporters had argued the residence halls would draw students out of general housing in nearby neighborhoods, but dozens of residents blasted the plan, and the Boston Planning & Development Agency eventually agreed.

The city has been pushing to add student housing, urging universities to either build residence halls or partner with a private developer, as Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Boston have.

But Sheila Dillon, the city's chief of housing says if Scape wants to build conventional apartments, that’s OK, too.

“The market has several gaps right now,” Dillon says. “We need more student housing. We need more market-rate housing. We need all of it.”

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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