Construction debris littering roads and sidewalks. Streets closed without a permit. Dust and runoff coating cars, streets and the entire neighborhood.
Sound familiar? For those of us living in the area between Girard Avenue and West York Street, and Broad Street and North 19th Street it should. It’s how City Controller Alan Butkovitz described our neighborhood in a report released Oct. 10.
Butkovitz said the report was brought on by numerous complaints from permanent residents, who felt helpless against the developers buying up properties around Temple. In the developers’ haste to produce more properties for Temple students, they often violate building codes among a variety of other offenses — with little regard for the people who have to live in the neighborhood — both permanent residents and students alike.
Butkovitz reported that investigators from the Office of the Controller visited 19 sites throughout the spring and summer and found that five city departments — Licenses and Inspections, Water, Streets, Public Health and Police — failed to monitor and enforce the city’s rules regarding construction sites. He said the findings of the report point to a lack of understanding among the different agencies as to who was responsible for enforcing certain regulations. Along with creating a Memorandum of Understanding among the city agencies to provide direction and authority for inspectors to address building code violations, Butkovitz also proposed developing a mobile app to allow department employees to store pictures and videos of violations.
The timing of Butkovitz’s report is pretty ironic, considering that the task force charged with evaluating student-community relations is set to publish its findings online sometime this week, more than a year after it was commissioned.
In September 2011, then-president Ann Weaver Hart created what is now known as the Community and Student Off Campus Issues and Concerns Task Force, “to develop recommendations for a comprehensive approach to addressing and changing destructive, unsafe, and uncivil student behaviors in the neighborhood communities surrounding Temple’s main campus,” according to a copy of the report given to The Temple News.
The report said a lot. Too much to address at once. But basically the report, like Butkovitz, proposes a variety of strategies — 22 to be exact — in an attempt to improve the climate in the local off-campus community. The task force summarized the “strategories” into five areas of recommendations: revise student conduct process; influence student culture; enhance infrastructure; create shared ownership; and enhance communications.
But what I think people should take from both the city controller’s and Temple’s reports is the large role developers have in shaping permanent residents’ impression of Temple students. I would hardly say Temple students are perfect — boisterous parties and public urination prove otherwise — but developers’ disregard for anything but the green is costing students more than we may initially believe with local residents.
Take for instance, trash. Most of the trash on my street is construction debris. Residents complain about it. And when some students see it, it only creates a justification to throw their empty box of cigarettes on the ground too. Then residents complain more. It’s a vicious cycle.
One of the strategies proposed by the task force calls for landlords to assume a more proactive role in the neighborhood. But how?
The report said, “Landlords should be active in helping to address student behavioral issues and improve neighborhood relations by supporting dialogues between students and residents, understanding Student Code of Conduct expectations, and helping to initiate various forms of civic engagement.” Obviously landlords have proven they don’t care, and without an incentive to, I am not sure how we can make them.
But I do think we can do more as students to empower ourselves, and that is where I think the report is onto something.
I think the expansion of the current Off Campus Living office would be useful in not only informing students of their rights as renters, but also as a way of holding landlords and development companies more responsible.
The proposed strategies seem legitimately helpful. Developing and maintaining a student survey to rate landlords, maintaining updated information about local rental markets, local regulations regarding leasing, city resources and services and providing technical support to students experiencing landlord difficulties all seem like positive developments.
I know when I transferred to Temple I would have benefited by an office with these types of resources. And, when I came back from studying abroad this summer, I found out my landlord built a wall in the entrance of my apartment to hide my room in order to pass inspections. I wish there would have been a place for me to go for help.
Bad landlords are a dime a dozen around here, and I hope that Temple implements these changes.
Temple can be that voice of authority for students. And the city agencies can help by holding landlords more accountable. At the end of the day, I think Temple students feel just as helpless against these powerful development companies as local residents, but by empowering both, I believe we can start to create that culture of shared ownership that we all seek.
Bri Bosak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BriBosak.