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MIT studies faculty housing subsidies

MIT is studying ways to help faculty members, particularly new faculty and younger faculty, cope with the rising housing costs in the Boston area, Provost Robert Brown announced in the latest edition of the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

"The housing market in Boston makes the need for a more aggressive housing program inevitable," Brown said, adding that he hopes to have "more to report before the fall."

Brown cited studies showing that housing prices in the greater Boston area increased by almost 74 percent between 1997 and 2002, with an increase of more than 10 percent last year. The median single-family house in the area cost $396,000 in 2002.

"For those of us already established in the housing market, these numbers are music to our ears, because they constitute growth of our investments. But for new members of our faculty or colleagues in transition from one type of housing to another, these increases are a tremendous hardship," Brown said.

The February/March Faculty Newsletter, distributed on campus this week, has three articles focusing on faculty housing, including results of a faculty survey and a proposal to subsidize rental units at 100 Memorial Drive.

Brown, Executive Vice President John Curry and Treasurer Allan Bufferd have commissioned a small committee to reexamine MIT's contingent-interest mortgage program for faculty, first established in the 1980s.

Addressing both the recruiting of new faculty and the situation for exising faculty, the provost said, "Clearly, the compensation increases that MIT has offered over the years have not kept pace with the housing market. As a result, our younger colleagues have to leverage their household incomes to an increasing extent to buy ever-smaller homes with potentially longer commutes into Boston."

In the competition among universities for faculty, he said, "schools are using combinations of cash, home equity-sharing, and low-interest and contingent-interest mortgages arranged by the school to make it feasible for faculty to buy houses in markets under conditions where their base salary would not support the purchase.

"Optimally, the programs are designed to get housing subsidies to the individual faculty in ways that are the most financially effective and tax-efficient. Different programs may work for faculty at different stages of their careers.

"For examples, low-cost rental housing on or near campus may be best for new faculty (and maybe others) and would help build the sense of community that we all want at MIT," he said.

MIT's current contingent-interest mortgage program is a second mortgage with a capped interest rate for a fixed term, with a "large bullet of interest and principle" due at the end of the term.

The faculty survey was analyzed by Lydia Snover, assistant to the provost for institutional research. The results show that more than 90 professors, half tenured and half nontenured, said the availability of affordable housing near campus would have made it easier to decide to come to MIT.

Approximately 50 faculty members--three-fifths of them nontenured--said the availability of housing on campus would have made the decision easier. Tenured professors constituted almost three-quarters of the 359 faculty who responded to the survey.

100 Memorial Drive

Redwine is seeking faculty comments on one proposal that requires no new construction. He noted that a special housing opportunity for faculty is represented by the apartment building at 100 Memorial Drive. MIT's financial interest in the river-view complex means that MIT can "place tenants in units as they become available for rent."

Faculty would have more time at home, he said, adding that "living near campus will almost certainly help" in attracting faculty to interact with students outside the classroom.

"Such subsidized housing should be an important recruiting tool for faculty," he said.

"The scale can be quickly estimated. If one assumes a subsidy of $1,000 per month for 80 faculty members (which I believe would represent a phenomenal success), then the cost is about $1 million per year. The issue of the duration limit of the subsidy would have to be addressed," he said.

The Faculty Newsletter is available online to users with an MIT web certificate at

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 9, 2003.

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