Zoning law could oust students

Students in the Yorktown section of Philadelphia directly southwest of Main Campus may be homeless midsemester after legislation passed in Philadelphia City Council that bans absentee landlords. The legislation zones all housing in Yorktown as

Students in the Yorktown section of Philadelphia directly southwest of Main Campus may be homeless midsemester after legislation passed in Philadelphia City Council that bans absentee landlords.

The legislation zones all housing in Yorktown as single family housing and prevents students from renting houses that are not occupied by the owner.

Community members said they were tired of the noise, mess, cars and lack of respect for the community, Mary McCrea, resident of Yorktown and the chairperson of the Stakeholders Committee said.

“We had some problems in October and [recently] again we had a problem. One of the students had to go to Episcopal hospital,” McCrea said.

The Yorktown community presented their problems to Councilman Darrell Clarke and his office and asked for their assistance to preserve their neighborhood as a single family home community.

“[Councilman] Clarke’s office received many complaints, phone calls and visits from worried residents [of the Yorktown community],” William Carter, legislative aid to Councilman Clarke, said. “He had to do something for them.”

The North Central Philadelphia Community Special District Controls legislation was passed by City Council Dec. 16, 2004, and was signed by the mayor on Feb. 16, 2005, banning multiple-family dwellings, apartment, tenement, fraternity and sorority houses, and student housing not owner-occupied in Yorktown. Mayor John Street is himself a resident of Yorktown.

It is now up to License & Inspections of Philadelphia to enforce the legislation. To ensure this, the Yorktown Community Council has reported all 32 houses they are aware of that are in violation of this new code. There are a total of 673 properties in Yorktown.

“Once a general complaint has been made it takes between 24 hours to one month for L&I to come out and inspect the violation,” Gayle Johns, spokesperson for L&I said.

Johns said she is unaware how L&I will go about enforcing this new legislation because L&I is changing the way they deal with complaints currently.

Carter said that L&I should have already been enforcing the legislation.

“It’s mostly community driven. The community files complaints and then L&I should come out and investigate,” Carter said.

Temple’s Office of Off-Campus Housing was instructed by administration to not list any properties in Yorktown after the community made the university aware of the legislation, said Lisa Prestileo, Coordinator of Off-Campus Housing.

“We still get a lot of people wanting to advertise with us who don’t know about the legislation that was passed,” Prestileo said.

William T. Bergman, Vice President of Operations at Temple, confirmed that the university immediately complied with the Yorktown community’s request to not advertise properties in Yorktown, but said they have not had an abnormal amount of complaints.

“It’s a stable community. It’s one of the great urban renewal stories, they just celebrated their [45th] anniversary,” Bergman said. “We haven’t had tons of complaints and I have not seen mass parties.”

Bergman said he is unsure if anyone has informed the students in Yorktown of the legislation, but said he doesn’t believe the city is in the business of putting anybody out of their houses.

“I don’t think L&I will be dealing with the students, they will be dealing with the landlords,” Bergman said. He said it’s been a popular housing location for students because of “the strong housing stock. It’s a great neighborhood.”

Dave App, of the 1500 block of N. 12th Street, said he was unaware of the legislation.

“It’s kind of a raw deal,” App, a senior kinesiology major said. “There’s been no problems.”

“There’s been some parties, but what do you expect?” Arthur Rhea, a senior political science major and roommate of App said. “Nobody sees this as a type of discrimination?”

Both are hoping that L&I won’t do anything before May when their lease expires – neither one of them were planning on staying after they graduate.

Nicole Smith, a senior accounting major said she also was planning on moving out in May when her lease expires.

“I like the neighbors, we get along. The kids usually play right in our driveway,” Smith said. “We’ve had one party in two years, and we haven’t had problems.”

Smith said that she and her roommates were unaware of the legislation.

The city of Philadelphia also has a code that applies to the entire city that prohibits more than three unrelated people to live in the same residence, but it is not usual for L&I to enforce this.

“There has to be a complaint, otherwise L&I won’t come out and check themselves,” McCrea said.

Both Bergman and McCrea expressed sentiments that ideally no one would be kicked out, but rather students could move out at the end of the semester and no new tenants would move in, but it is now on L& I’s timetable.

The Yorktown legislation also applies to the area bounded by 13th Street, 11th Street, Susquehanna Avenue and Diamond Street.

Josh Chamberlain can be reached at joshch@temple.edu.

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