If passed, a bill would prohibit students from living in areas near Main Campus.
To some, students living in the neighborhoods near Main Campus translates to increased safety and an attraction for businesses. To others, they represent late-night boozing and uncontrollable litter. In a response to the latter, a bill seeking to prohibit off-campus student housing in certain areas was introduced into City Council Thursday, Sept. 22.
The bill, introduced by District Councilman Darrell Clarke, seeks to absolve the community of long talked-about tensions with students by prohibiting student housing in an area juxtaposed to surround Main Campus.
If passed, the bill would prohibit new multiple-family dwellings, apartment houses, tenement houses, student housing not owner-occupied and fraternity and sorority houses in the area surrounding campus.
Between 6,000 and 7,000 students are estimated to live near Main Campus. In recent years, the influx of students moving into the neighborhood has dramatically changed the makeup of the area.
Clarke, a democrat representing the fifth councilmanic district, reportedly cited students’ disrespectful behavior building tension between students and long-time residents in the community surrounding Main Campus as a reason for introducing the bill.
The borders would be as follows: North 19th Street on the west, Lehigh Avenue on the north, Ninth Street on the east, southward along Ninth Street to Cecil B. Moore Avenue, westward along Cecil B. Moore Avenue to 13th Street, southward along 13th Street to Girard Avenue and Girard Avenue, from 13th Street to 19th Street on the south.
This isn’t the first time such legislation has made its way to City Council.
An ordinance was approved for the Yorktown area in 2005, banning most student housing in the neighborhood south of Main Campus. Some landlords who were grandfathered in prior to the ordinance’s inception are still permitted to rent to students.
The new bill seeks to amend this section of the Philadelphia Code, to add the new boundaries to the ordinance.
In 2004, Clarke also introduced a piece of legislation seeking to curb the behavior of some students in the neighborhood. The bill sought to create an “educational housing district” around Main Campus and would have required students to tell landlords that they were university students and inform Temple of their off-campus addresses and vehicle numbers.
After a hearing on May 20, 2004, the bill lapsed.
Teresa Taylor, a long-time resident that lives on 18th Street between Montgomery Avenue and Berks Street, said students’ trash in front of homes on her street is an issue she believes is improving, but is still prevalent.
“There’s just a lot of screaming. I guess that’s just a part of life,” Taylor said. “I think they should try to build a rapport with neighbors.”
Lauren Russ, a junior education major, said she thinks children growing up in the area may be prematurely exposed to college students’ partying, which could be a legitimate grievance for community members.
“I think they have a right to be frustrated,” Russ said.
Still, some said they thought students’ dwelling in the neighborhoods bolstered the community in through new developments’ aesthetics and safety.
“I think it’s a good thing because I feel like students being here makes the community safer for people that have families,” said Eric Savering, a junior biology major.
“Tell them to try to stop the violence. People [are] getting killed every day. That’s what they should be worried about,” Rafiq Millel, a 21-year-old life-long resident of North Philadelphia, said. “We all gotta live in this world together.”
Peter Crawford of the Temple Area Property Association, a coalition of local landlords that represents approximately 300 buildings in the Main Campus area, said the area has seen revitalization as a result of students moving into the neighborhood.
“This area was a ghost town 15, 20 years ago, before students started living around campus,” Crawford said.
“We’re startled by the bill. It would unwind 15 years of economic growth in Central Philadelphia,” Jon Weiss, president of Equinox Management Construction LLC and TempleTown Realty.
Crawford said his organization was working with Clarke on a “neighborhood improvement district.”
The district would deal with issues such as lighting, cleanliness and safety, Weiss said.
Crawford added that Clarke supported the idea for the district and did not inform TAPA of the bill until the day before he introduced it.
The student body and those who oppose the bill need to voice their opinions immediately, Crawford said.
“I think it’s really interesting that he’s addressing student housing cause we’re causing problems but we’re doing nothing about the vacant lots, crime is still of significant highs, there’s still violence in the community,” Temple Student Government Student Body President Colin Saltry said. “Is this intended to actually do anything, or is it just pandering?”
The university does not have a position on the bill because it deals with land not owned by Temple, said Ray Betzner, assistant vice president of university communications.
“Temple expects its students to be good residents of Philadelphia,” Betzner said, adding that for the most part, they are.
Betzner said university representatives meet with Clarke periodically, but was unsure if the councilman had given Temple any indication that he would be introducing the legislation.
However, Crawford said that, if passed, the bill would likely make the university less attractive to prospective students by setting the neighborhood back 15 years.
“If we had to commute here from say a nearby area, we probably wouldn’t come to class as much,” said Danielle Cafaro, a junior math major.
Although the university does not have a direct relation to the off-campus housing business, community members have made it clear to the university that they’d prefer students to live on campus.
Betzner said these concerns helped establish the new South Gateway project, a residence hall under construction at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue that is estimated to be complete in 2013, as a part of the university’s 20/20 plan.
The new residence hall is expected to add more than 1,000 bed spaces for students.
But as students continue to occupy houses in the area, and complaints by long-time residents continue to be voiced to the university, administrators are confronted with the task of attempting to ensure its students are conducting themselves in acceptable behavior off campus.
“I think we can all admit that there are some rowdy students on Saturday nights…but I don’t think that it’s the masses of Temple students,” Griffin said. “Those just happen to be the students who get attention.”
Last March, Temple, under Dean of Students Stephanie Ives, unveiled its Good Neighbor Policy, which reiterates standard common-courtesy rules and laws, such as disposing garbage appropriately, abiding by codes, respecting the city’s noise ordinance and following alcohol and drug laws.
Violation of the policy could result in could result in university sanctions, ranging from community service to suspension or expulsion from the university.
However, some questioned its effectiveness on students and its viability.
“Our biggest complaint is that this whole Good Neighbor Policy thing, it’s just words on a page, really,” Saltry said. “It needs to be more of a focused effort.”
Likewise, Griffin said not many students know about the Good Neighbor Policy.
“The policy reminds students about state laws and city laws,” Ives told The Temple News. “Time will tell. This is a very long process. It’s only been out there for a short amount of time.”
“A simple Good Neighbor Policy is not going to be your simple magic solution. It’s going to help and the more we keep it alive and new and fresh in students’ minds, it’ll help,” Ives added.
Griffin said it’s time to brainstorm new ways to fix the tensions between students and community members.
Saltry and Griffin both said the university needs to better understand where exactly students are living off campus.
“We need to do a better job of being good neighbors with the community. I think the university needs to reevaluate what its priorities are in addressing that,” Saltry said. “It’s almost as if they want us to engage people and then all of a sudden we’re going to be holding hands and singing Kumbaya, which is not realistic.”
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.