After years of complaints, Yorktown will no longer be home for student renters.
A Dec. 22 court ruling could pave the way for further evictions of student renters in Yorktown, where longtime residents have been fighting to get the city to enforce a zoning ordinance written to keep student tenants out the suburban-style neighborhood.
Barring an appeal, the ruling was the last legal avenue some tenants had to avoid eviction.
The court case arose from the Department of Licenses & Inspections evicting student renters from houses zoned as single-family dwellings, as per a city ordinance proposed by City Councilmember Darrell Clarke, the Democrat representing the fifth district.
In 2004, the so-called Yorktown Overlay was introduced and included specifically limited students from leasing non-owner-occupied housing in the area bordered by 9th and 13th streets and Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Lawyers representing the owners of three Yorktown properties argued the language singling out students was unconstitutional, calling the legislation a “slippery slope.”
But Judge Idee Fox of the Court of Common Pleas defended the ordinance, writing in her ruling, “it is clearly intended to protect the vitality and viability of the Yorktown neighborhood as a unique inner city haven for single families from the harms of unsupervised students living with absentee landlords.”
Samantha Salley, a junior psychology major, said the possibility of being evicted factored into her decision to not renew her lease in June.
“I’d like to live here next year, but I don’t want to risk being kicked out halfway into a semester,” Salley said. “I can see why some of the locals might be annoyed, but I feel sorry for any innocent students who might be evicted.”
“It’s going to be the landlords that have the most to lose,” she added.
Community members seem to hope the court’s findings will lead the L&I to enforce the zoning law across Yorktown. Only eight houses were targeted when residents first petitioned the L&I. Lawyers for SFH Properties LLC, the firm listed as the plaintiff in the case, did not comment.
As of Jan. 7, it was “considering an appeal,” according to the Daily News.
Many Yorktown residents have called the area home for decades; some remember the neighborhood in its infancy.
“We are trying to preserve the community as a single-family area, which is what the developer had in mind when he built the development 50 years ago,” Yorktown Stakeholders’ Committee Secretary Pamela Pendleton-Smith said. “I’ve lived in Yorktown for 28 years. When I lived with my parents … I watched them build Yorktown.”
Pendleton-Smith said residents began having problems with Temple students in the early 2000s, when the university’s growing population drove students to find housing in nearby neighborhoods.
Complaints ranged from students parking in front of driveways to hosting loud, late-night parties. Block captains tried to be accommodating, letting students know when to put out garbage and that they were expected to shovel the walks, but were reportedly unreceptive.
Furthermore, the constant turnover of student renters made long-term residents feel they were fighting an uphill battle: Each year, a new group of students would cycle through and problems would begin anew.
“I wish someone would orient these students to help them understand that they’re here for only a brief moment, but we’re here all our lives,” Pendleton-Smith said, adding much of Yorktown’s population is elderly.
It was in this mindset residents sought the help of Clarke.
“We thought all along this would be a difficult challenge and there would be a significant push back from a number of developers,” Clarke said in response to Fox’s findings. “The community took the position it had nothing to lose. It was becoming an unbearable situation.”
Residents and Wanamaker alumni are split on the issue — some want the school to continue to serve as a community asset, while others see the residence hall as a way to relieve pressure on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said the dormitory currently under construction at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue will help to alleviate some of the tension and that the university will assist evicted Yorktown residents with housing.
Donald Hoegg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Landlords who had obtained a student housing permit prior to the ordinance being enacted are still able to rent to Temple students.