Colleges in the Boston area are turning to hotels to accommodate students

The south tower of the Sheraton Hotel. In January, the BPDA approved Northeastern’s proposal to convert the tower into permanent student housing. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Cramped dorms are the essence of being a student. There are disadvantages with the benefits of living within walking distance of friends, classes, and almost every other aspect of a student’s daily life. But for some Boston schools, the age-old stereotype of students living in dorms is fading.

To accommodate more students and increase housing demand, some Boston colleges have turned to a creative solution in a city facing a housing crisis: hotels.

Colleges across the country have used hotels as housing to help with social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Four years later, schools in Boston – especially in the Northeast – were still renting or even purchasing hotel space for students due to a housing shortage.

“I really enjoyed my time at the Sheraton. The big room was very nice,” said Mars Poper, a Northeastern sophomore who lived in the former hotel adjacent to the Prudential Center in 2023 and 2024. “But I would also prefer to have a smaller space but live closer to campus? Maybe.”

In January, members of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) unanimously approved Northeastern’s request to allow the school to convert the south tower of the Sheraton Hotel into permanent student housing for approximately 856 students. The building is undergoing some work to make it more like a residence hall, including the creation of a laundry room, exercise and study spaces, and a “dedicated outdoor space.”

Students say that while it is unconventional, living at the Sheraton, now known as 60 Belvidere St., is not much different from living in typical off-campus apartments, although students living at the hotel are often freshmen and sophomores who expected live on campus.

Mix of forces in play conversion of hotels into student residences

Students on the Northeastern campus. – Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Colleges across Boston have turned to hotels to house students in an era of social distancing protocols, part of a nationwide trend.

The University of Suffolk has rented several hotels, including the Boxer and Wyndham, to house people during the pandemic. A year before Covid-19 emerged, the school purchased the historic Ames Building, converted it into a residence hall and opened it to students in the fall of 2020.

In 2020, Emerson College hosted students on nearly a dozen floors of the W Hotel, and although the New England Conservatory of Music considered renting the Revolutionary Hotel, it withdrew when “students were able to arrange their own housing,” a college official told

The extent of Northeastern’s hotel utilization exceeded that of other nearby universities. During the pandemic, the school has used the Midtown, Westin and Sheraton hotels to house students and continues to fully lease the Midtown Hotel and the Sheraton’s south tower. The Sheraton Boston Hotel is the largest hotel in Boston, with 1,220 rooms and suites. Northeastern permanently leases 428 of these rooms.

BPDA documents show that using the hotel for student housing helps alleviate market pressures in Boston’s already difficult housing market.

“In support of the Housing Boston 2030 initiative, the conversion of underutilized hotel space into student residence halls supports the goal of increasing the number of new off-campus residence halls to alleviate market pressures on the Boston housing market,” a January project update from the BPDA reads.

The project met with both support and opposition from local residents. During public comments in October, one resident wrote that students living in non-university housing could “put upward pressure on already skyrocketing rental prices.”

“As universities like Northeastern open their doors to more students, they have a responsibility to create more housing to meet student needs,” the resident wrote. “This proposal is a step in the right direction.”

Others argued that converting the hotel into student residences would have a negative impact on the city or otherwise fail to provide benefits to the community.

“Simply put, we do not see a single benefit to our neighborhood, the city of Boston, or local taxpayers for this conversion to occur,” wrote one person opposed to the plan. “For the loss of tourists to local businesses, the negative impact on the Hynes Convention Center, and the significant loss of millions of dollars annually in local and state tax revenue in one of the city’s most desirable areas, what would our neighborhood receive in return? A new residence hall with its own isolated dining hall and students who will simply commute to (and) from Northeastern University every day.”

For students, the cost of living at Belvidere St. 60 are roughly comparable to the cost of living on Northeastern’s campus. Students living there during the 2022-2023 academic year can expect to pay $5,610 per semester for an “upgraded” double-bedroom apartment that includes a bathroom but does not include a kitchen. A standard double-bedroom apartment elsewhere on campus costs $5,125.

In addition to taking over existing buildings, Northeastern plans to build or create more student housing on its campuses. The BPDA recently approved Northeastern’s application to build a residence hall at 840 Columbus Ave. According to BPDA documents, the dormitory will be able to accommodate up to 1,370 beds.

A school spokesman said that over the past 15 years, Northeastern has added three residence halls on its Boston campus, with 3,655 new beds. A total of 12,000 beds are available on the Boston campus, in addition to those available at 60 Belvidere St.

A school spokesman declined to say how many students are enrolled on the Boston campus, but said study abroad programs, alternative undergraduate campuses and out-of-state co-ops impact the number of students living on campus each semester.

Student experiences at Northeastern hotels vary

Hotel in Śródmieście. – David L. Ryan / Boston Globe

According to the university, Northeastern welcomes students at 60 Belvidere St. from fall 2021 and in Midtown from 2018. Currently, most university students staying in hotels are returning from first-year study programs at foreign universities: NUi.n. and Global Scholars.

Ella Warner, first-year NUi.n student. program, which allows students to study abroad for the first semester before coming to Boston, said she initially had concerns about integrating on campus while living in a hotel.

“When I first decided to go to Northeastern, I was hesitant to commit to the community aspect anyway,” said Warner, who lived on Belvidere St. during the spring semester. 60. “And then when I found out I was being placed at the Sheraton, I was just as worried.”

Elli Einset, a freshman who lived in Midtown for the spring semester and also attended NUin, had similar concerns when she learned she would be staying in a hotel.

“When I first found out I got into Midtown, I was really disappointed because everyone was telling me how bad it was and I didn’t know anything about on-campus housing,” Einset said.

However, both students said their worries soon subsided.

“I was really surprised to see that while he obviously wasn’t the best, he was a lot better than I expected,” Einset said.

Warner stated that the spaciousness of her room allowed her friends to come to the school, and the school did a “good job” of organizing social events for residents. It seemed “luxurious” compared to the situation of other students.

“The only two locations (for returning from NUin) that I know of where people were placed were International Village and Sheraton,” Warner said. “Both have their advantages and disadvantages as everyone in the International Village has been placed in forced doubles. And these were my friends who were taking the 20-minute walk to the Sheraton just to hang out because we had so much space.”

Students alleged that “forced double rooms” are rooms that were originally designed for one person but are now designed for two people. The university did not respond to questions from about whether additional students are being placed in rooms that were originally intended to accommodate fewer students.

The hotel’s proximity to attractions such as the Prudential Center, Newbury Street and Boylston Street was also an advantage for Warner.

Patrick O’Neill, a sophomore, said the hotel has improved since students first moved in there. O’Neill has lived in the building since spring 2023 and chose to return for the previous academic year because it was the “best” of several housing options on campus, citing more space and air conditioning.

During the spring semester, the school installed a food market in the former hotel lobby. Students say that previously access to the dining hall from the dormitory could be difficult.

But Midtown is a different story, students say. The hotel’s website shows that the school has not made the same renovations as the former Sheraton, as Northeastern is only leasing it through summer 2025.

Although resident assistants organize events in Midtown, students told that there is a lack of shared space and participation in activities.

“There wasn’t really any common area,” Einset said. – And there’s no one in the Midtown lobby. I felt disconnected (from campus) because I had to walk all the way back.”

Freshman Raymond Hackett, who lives in Midtown during the summer, said that although he has to schedule his time differently to accommodate commuting to and from campus, he chose to stay in the hotel because it is air-conditioned — not something every dorm has on campus.

“In my opinion, it was worth it to pay about 10 extra minutes of walking,” Hackett said.

Unlike 60 Belvidere St., Midtown does not offer its own restaurant or gym.

“I feel like I definitely missed meals because I didn’t feel like walking all the way,” Einset said.

For most students living in hotels, the biggest disadvantage of their unusual arrangement seemed to be access to food. Neither Midtown nor 60 Belvidere St. dorms. they don’t have a kitchen.

“I might prefer to have a smaller space but live closer to campus,” Poper said. “If I had a kitchen, everything would be fine.”