Longtime Yorktown residents are finding the stability of their neighborhood to be a cause for concern because real-estate investors are buying homes and converting single-family dwellings into multi-unit housing for Temple students.
The influx of speculator activities in Yorktown, a community largely comprised of homeowners and retirees, has vexed some residents who say the converted properties that house transient students will destabilize the character of the area.
“The next thing you know, this community will be blighted, and once a community becomes blighted, it becomes subject for condemnation and from [there], eminent domain, which means all of us have to go,” said Pam Pendleton-Smith, who has lived in Yorktown since 1956.
“That’s why everyone is so up in arms about Temple now,” she added. “With these speculator activities going on throughout the community, this looks like the tippy toes that come before the heavy foot steps.”
The enactment of the North Central Philadelphia Community Special District Controls in 2005 has affected the legality of many students’ tenancies. The city ordinance prohibits the construction of multiple-family dwellings, apartment and tenement houses and absentee landlords who rent properties to students.
“The investors are still finding properties to purchase, which is a quandary for us because these are properties that never have for-sale signs, to give single families who want to come and live in the community the opportunity to buy,” Pendleton-Smith said. “You have them snapping up the houses before we ever know the house is available.”
Junior Josh Schrager and his two roommates are three student occupants that reside in one of Yorktown’s single-family houses on the 1300 block of Jefferson Street.
Not stepping in the house until a month before the fall semester began, Schrager signed the lease unaware that his tenancy would be in violation of the ordinance.
“We do pay rent and [the landlord] doesn’t live there,” the journalism major said. “I think his daughter lived there the previous years and she graduated so he just put it up for sale and we found it.”
A recent city ordinance limits the number of unrelated persons living in a house in the community to no more than three people.
Pendleton-Smith said Temple students have lived in the neighborhood since the ‘70s, but student housing not owner-occupied will not be tolerated.
“The property owner that [rented] the first property started multiplying across the community, but when he realized the homeowners were not going to stand for that type of activity, he quickly sold and got out,” Pendleton-Smith said. “The investor that came in behind him has continued to multiply his holdings throughout the community.”
William Bergman, vice president of operations at Temple, said the Office of Off-Campus Living removed listings for rentals in Yorktown because the university “did not want to be involved in those issues.”
“I think what we are trying to do is continue to be a good neighbor to them and work very closely with them on all these issues,” Bergman said.
Schrager’s efforts to be a “good neighbor” began when he first moved into his house, which has remained in its original structure.
“Me and my roommates made it a point to go out to our neighbors and the people who lived next to us, to introduce ourselves and get to know them,” said Schrager, “and they seemed nice.”
“I have heard of confrontations between the students and the residents living around here but me and my roommates are trying to make it so that it doesn’t occur,” he added.
“The students make it seem like we are under attack. You don’t come into my home and disrupt it,” Pendleton-Smith said. “I have a constitutional right for the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of my home. You don’t have a constitutional right to have animal-house parties, underage drinking and everything else that goes into the college syndrome.
“I’m not saying that every single house that has students in it has that sort of activity going on, but before investors were buying up properties, we didn’t have that type of activity at all.”
Renea Crawley has lived on the 1500 block of 13th Street in Yorktown for 19 years.
“I had a couple Temple students come down and ask me if I was willing to rent out to them. I told them ‘no.’ It’s a family thing,” Crawley said.
For Crawley additional vehicular traffic has decreased parking previously available to her and fellow neighbors.
“Parking has been a really big issue,” Crawley said. “We did get a sign posted out here, but a lot of times they don’t adhere to that. [Students] just park wherever they can because they’re trying to get to school. If they would really adhere to no parking on [my] side of the street it would be such a joy.”
Pendleton-Smith also said investors are taking advantage of the students who are no longer eligible for on-campus housing.
“Temple has created this situation because Temple has decided that once you have spent two years in the dorms, you have to go. That pushes that population onto us,” she said. “Investors and speculators see an opportunity to create housing for these people that are in need. In the course of them doing that, they are breaking one law. They bring unlicensed contractors and unlicensed contractors are more apt to do work that is not up to code.”
Bergman said the university is working closely with the Department of Licenses and Inspections to address possible infractions.
“I think that this issue is one that we have to approach. We have to see exactly what the city wants to do and how they’re going to go about handling this whole issue. When [Temple] gets a clear cut message from the city, what we will do is put some strategies together,” Bergman said.
Pendleton-Smith said Temple should inform students about the communities that are covered by the city ordinance during freshman orientation.
“Make them aware that at your own risk you stand being evicted.”
Brittany Diggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.