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City-Student Relations

A weekly blog of thoughts on local politics.

Hello College Park!

From now on I’ll be writing a weekly blog here on Patch talking about our local political scene.  I’ll mainly be focusing on what is happening in College Park, though from time to time I’ll bring in county, state or national politics. It’s my hope that you find this blog to be both informative and thought-provoking, or at the very least I hope you don’t find it to be so dull that it drives you to drink (though a few of our local businesses might appreciate that).

Wry introductions aside, it was actually difficult for me to think of a first topic for this blog. The difficulty didn’t lie in a lack of issues in College Park, but because I’ve always found the first entry to a blog to be the hardest one to make. Because there are so many “current events” I could bring up, and I didn’t want to come right out of the gate with one of them, I’ve decided to start with a general topic: resident-student relations. 

I’ve stated before at a City Council meeting and to various student leaders and residents that I actually believe resident-student relations are positive. I admit I’ve gotten some amused and mixed reactions to this claim. I’m not blind to the fact that long-term residents and university students often have issues in our local neighborhoods. 

Permanent residents often complain about noisy parties on weeknights, trash on lawns, and general disorderly conduct from students who sometimes treat our residential neighborhoods like temporary housing and forget about the families, seniors and children who live next door and deserve to have a quiet and clean community. On the other hand, students note that we’re a college town after all – it’s literally in our name – and that a certain amount of “student living” is to be expected in our community.

While additional work is needed on those quality-of-life issues, people often overlook the important, macro level issues where students and residents stand united: 

  • A&A Tax: When the previous University of Maryland administration looked into discontinuing payment of the admission and amusement (A & A) tax to the city, it was an editorial in the student-run Diamondback newspaper that criticized the administration for even considering a decision that could have such a large negative impact on the City of College Park and its taxpayers.
  • Purple Line: When it came down to determining which alignment to support for the Purple Line, the College Park City Council and the Student Government Association both took official stances supporting the state-preferred Campus Drive alignment.
  • East Campus: When discussions over the East Campus development project started and UMD debated tearing down a forested area called the Wooded Hillock to move the facilities currently located on the East Campus site, the city and the Student Government Association both took official stances against it.
  • Rent Stabilization: An issue that has long been a controversial one in the City of College Park.  The past three SGA presidents have all come out to publicly support the implementation of a rent stabilization ordinance. While permanent residents and students may support such an ordinance for different reasons, there has been unity between city and student leaders on rent stabilization for years despite false claims by some out of town landlords that this ordinance is anti-student.
  • Equal Rights: During this past legislative session, one of the key votes in getting marriage equality passed in the State Senate was going to come from our state senator, Jim Rosapepe. For Senator Rosapepe, this was a tough personal and political decision to make. To Rosapepe’s credit, he has always put a high premium on the voice of those he represents. The College Park City Council and the Student Government Association both took stances supporting marriage equality in Maryland, and Senator Rosapepe ended up voting in favor of it after years of being undecided on the issue. 

It’s important and encouraging to remember that the representative bodies of both the students of the University of Maryland and the residents of the City of College Park have time and again voted in unison on the most important issues which impact our city. What is even more encouraging is that in every example I’ve stated, when students and permanent residents see eye to eye they almost always succeed in getting their way.

So yes, there are serious matters to address regarding resident-student relations, ones I don’t consider minor. But in terms of the long-term vision students and residents have for College Park, and the major issues we face, there has been unity -- and when there has been unity there has been success. Hopefully this is something people will remember and take to heart when thinking about student-resident relations in the future and can be a positive starting-off point for discussions on quality-of-life issues in our city.

 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Joe Smith May 05, 2011 at 01:17 PM
In regard to residents' complaints about students, I have to say that the students living around me are pretty quiet and seem to fit into the neighborhood just fine. What bothers me is that the houses they rent are generally eyesores, with unmoved lawns, trash strewn about, and so on. Yet, who's to blame for this: the students living in the houses or the landlords who own them? Yes, student renters ought to know what a trash can is, but, ultimately, I think the responsibility for these properties lies with the landlords. This is significant, particularly in regard to the brewhaha over the rent stabilization ordinance. After all, I have a hard time believing that landlords have any sincere interest in or concern for the city when they consistently fail to maintain their dwellings.
Marcus Afzali May 05, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Joe, In general I don't think your end of the city has as many problems with student rental houses as the southern end in the city. But I do agree with your general statement that the condition of the houses are primarily the responsibility of the owner of the property. Overall though this particular blog entry was less about what differences students and residents have in this city and more about the major issues they time and again agree on.
Joe Smith May 05, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Yes, there's more rentals "down" there than "up" here (my comment applies down there to an even greater extent). And yes, I know you intend to write about what they-we agree on. That said, in addition to documenting my own experience and take on the rent issue, I was trying to suggest that if residents blame students for the condition of the houses they rent, then they should direct it (or the appropriate amount of it) to those who deserve it.
Marcus Afzali May 05, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Not arguing that part at all. :-)
Jon Gulbuny May 05, 2011 at 04:26 PM
There are/were already existing laws concerning trash, house safety, and overall maintenance and appearance of rental homes. The rent control law takes money out of the landlord so they are now unable to make repairs as they did in the past. If the goal is to make the city clean and have nice looking houses then you should make a law that applies to ALL houses in college park regarding trash and appearance. Isn't that what you did but are still complaining about the outcome? Also I find your statement "despite false claims by some out of town landlords that this ordinance is anti-student. " quite amusing. I think you should take a poll of all of the students paying $1k+ per room to live in the new high rises. I bet they think this rent control law is really great for students!!
Joe Smith May 05, 2011 at 04:37 PM
You know, I've heard this before -- that if landlords could charge more, then they could do more to maintain houses -- and I don't really buy it. If the rent stabilization law really took that much money out of the landlords' pockets, then you'd seem them getting rid of their properties in CP. I don't see that happening, at least not in my part of the city. In fact, I've seen the opposite.
Jon Gulbuny May 05, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Why would they unload their properties at the worst possible time in the real estate market? The point is that they are going to invest LESS money into their properties since their bottom line is affected. Also, why not address the real issue though. If the city wants to have nice beautiful houses why not enforce existing laws against all single family homes? Why do they only want to target landlords? There are a lot of citizens in college park that have lost their jobs and can't keep up with the maintenance of their house. Why aren't they being targeted as well?
J. C. Poor May 07, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Interesting that most view rent control ordinance as anti-student. Perversely, it actually seems more "anti-resident." If student high-rise rentals are $1K, then $500-$600 rentals look really good to them, if they're smart! A bargain, plus more freedom & a parking space. Thus, despite this ordinance, rental properties still can be viewed as money-makers. Owners get a property investment & income from 3-5+ students, get business deductions, get City services, and still get a profit -- particularly with market as it is now. Student rental properties are spreading in CP, rather than retracting, as far as I can see.
Patrick Wojahn May 07, 2011 at 10:06 PM
The rent stabilization ordinance allows an exception to the rent cap for landlords who make improvements on their properties. So it actually provides an incentive for landlords to make improvements, because they can get more rent if they fix up their houses. All that a landlord has to do to get an increase in the rent cap is provide proof that the landlord has fixed up the property.
Laura Moore May 08, 2011 at 01:56 AM
Marcus - the Graduate Student Government was the first student organization to support the Purple Line and the Campus Drive alignment. The SGA followed suit some months later. Weren't you a grad student recently?
Marcus Afzali May 08, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Glad grad students also supported the Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line.
Jon Gulbuny May 09, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Pat, I'm no lawyer like you - but can you reference where a landlord can get an exception to the rent cap if they make improvements to their properties? My understanding is that a landlord "can" get an exception only if approved by a city controlled board (who will vote against landlords 100% of the time) So even if I do improvements the board can still deny my request to be above the hud housing rate. So why would any landlord ever put any money in with the risk of being 100% denied for a increase?
Patrick Wojahn May 09, 2011 at 02:54 AM
According to section 127-4 A(3) of the City Code - "Notwithstanding the provisions of Subsections A(1) and A(2) of this section, maximum rents of controlled rental units may be adjusted further in accordance with § 127-7 to establish rent levels consistent with principles of fair rents based on costs of operating each controlled rental unit, while assuring the owner a fair net operating income." In order to increase the rent cap based on improvements made to the property, the landlord does need to petition the rent stabilization board (which includes two landlords among its five members). If the landlord does not feel that the rent stabilization board applied the proper standard or conducted itself fairly, the landlord can petition a court of appropriate jurisdiction for review. I'm quite sure the landlords know how to do that.
Jon Gulbuny May 09, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Pat you proved my point. Even if a landlord makes substantial improvements there is no guarantee that the city run and anti-landlord board will grant an adjustment. Therefore it makes no sense for any landlord to put any amount of money into their properties since they can't recoup their cost.

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