|[St Thomas students praying for an end to anti-student discrimination. Img. fm MPR.]|
by Andrew Hasek, co-chairman of the Students Against the St Paul Student Housing ordinance
The city of St Paul claims to be “the most liveable city in America.” For students living off campus near the University of St Thomas, that statement has not been remotely true since the City Council’s adoption of a student housing zoning ordinance on August 8. The ordinance, which prohibits owner-occupied houses from being converted to student rentals within 150 feet of other student rentals, will cause many difficulties for St Thomas students who seek to live off campus as well as students from neighboring schools such as Macalester and St Catherine who also live in the affected area.
The City Council adopted the student housing zoning ordinance against the recommendation of the city’s Planning Commission. The ordinance was adopted in an attempt to remedy “overcrowding, excessive vehicular traffic, demand for available parking, noise and nuisance” complaints from residents of the Merriam Park and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods. There is no denying that these problem exist in these neighborhoods and that there is much yet to be done to combat them. However, the ordinance that was passed by the City Council is a step in the wrong direction. It is a violation of the property rights of students and homeowners, is discriminatory against students, and has potential problems in its implementation.
The student housing ordinance impedes on the property rights of students, homeowners and landlords in the zoning district because it limits their ability to choose what they can do with their property. These people should have the same property rights as other sin St Paul. The city of St Paul is dictating which houses can be rented to students in the zoning district. This interferes with the natural process of the housing market in these communities. It should be left up to students, homeowners and landlords to strike a deal on rental agreements.
If a homeowner decides to sell his or her home in the zoning district but lives next door to student renters, that property cannot be acquired by a landlord with the intention of converting it to a student rental. Students place a premium on property close to campus and could very well pay higher rent than a family would. The ordinance ensures that the seller of the home will receive less than he or she could have gotten without the ordinance in place.
As a student for St Thomas, I assure use there is a high demand for off-campus housing near the university. Student housing on the St Thomas campus is limited and fills up quickly. Because o this, and the fact that many students are able to save a lot of money by moving off campus, it is important that off campus housing near ST Thomas remain a viable option for students.
If student enrollment increases at St Thomas, there will be increased competition for existing rental properties. However, with the ordinance in place, it will be extremely difficult to commission any new student rentals in the zoning district. It is conceivable that the rents charged to students will rise because of the scarcity of rentals and that students will move to areas immediately outside of the zoning district. A shortage of off-campus housing may also hurt St Thomas’ ability to recruit new students.
The housing ordinance also discriminates against students. While students are not a protected class under the law, students in the zoning district will not be treated the same as individuals of the same age whoa re not students. This is at odds with the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, which grants equal protection to all. It is also unclear how the ordinance will work with the Family Educational Right and Privacy Act. Since St Thomas receives some federal funding, its students are protected by FERPA. Under FERPA, the university may not generally disclose student information but it can disclose director information such as names, addresses and enrollment status to the city of St Paul. However, students can opt out of the directory. It is unclear how the city will determine who is a student if a student can opt out of the directory.
The ordinance is a poor attempt to solve the neighborhood problems near St Thomas. Not only will it tear to shreds the cohesion of the St Thomas student community, it will serve as an impediment to housing decisions made by students. The correct course of action should be to have students, the University of St Thomas, and unhappy residents come to a mutual understanding on these issues and work to find an alternative solution,.
A coalition of college students has come together to form Students Against the St Paul Student Housing Ordinance. This organization is committed to the ordinance’s replacement or repeal, and improved neighborhood relations before, during and after the process.
Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It is plain to see that a neighborhood dived against itself cannot stand either. We look forward to working with members of the Merriam Park and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods on solving these issues.