As housing blitz continues, problems remain in Heights
blog by UB Spectrum • February 14, 2012 @ 2:27pm
Each weekend of the semester, hundreds of UB undergrads board buses that take them over to South Campus and the University Heights neighborhood. Drinking and trashing the area before getting back on the buses and going back to the dorms is common. And the houses students enter are often more dangerous than they had thought.
While UB’s “housing blitz” continues to investigate student housing in the University Heights, others wonder if the university is taking the right approach toward the neighborhood.
Often housing fraternities, sororities, and international students, the houses that sit in the Heights have stood for close to a century. Renters of these homes have previously faced serious issues. Some homes were condemned, or even burned down. Students in the University Heights area commonly deal with plumbing issues, electrical problems, and absentee landlords. Many students are unsafe in these houses, and many believe there should be some serious overhaul of the entire University Heights area.
Dan Ryan, director of off-campus student relations, has been working to eradicate the serious issues that students must deal with in what he calls a “housing blitz.” Last year, Ryan joined forces with the City of Buffalo to crack down on the serious safety issues of the old houses, citing landlords for code violations and requiring them to address problems.
Seventy-five landlords rent properties in the University Heights neighborhood, and they are responsible for hundreds of violations, but Ryan hopes these issues can soon be reversed through inspections. Ryan says that a new round of housing blitzes will start in April.
“We just recently met with inspectors from the city, and we did over 200 inspections last semester, so it was quite successful,” Ryan said. “Almost every student has let us in, and that’s just a great benefit, because for years, the inspectors would only be able to write up the problems they saw on the outside.”
Ryan says that during the last round of inspections, only one group of students was ordered by the courts to vacate their home, at 28 Lisbon Ave.
“The good news is that there has been a lot of attention focused on it, and there has been some improvement in the conditions of the homes,” Ryan said. “But we’re not to the point where we can confidently say that all the homes where students live are safe enough to live in. So we are really encouraging students to only sign leases for apartments that have a certificate of occupancy. That will show that an inspector has been in there within the last two years and said that everything is fine.”
Meanwhile, Professor Henry Taylor of the Center for Urban Studies thinks the university might have to try a different approach. Taylor is in charge of overhauling the declining Perry neighborhood near downtown Buffalo.
Taylor believes UB needs to actually work with the city to acquire the rental properties, take control over them, and redevelop them. Taylor helped The Ohio State University work with the city of Columbus and private developers to transform all the areas near its campus into renovated, livable areas.
Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law partnered with the Office of Student Affairs to create what they call the Student Housing Legal Clinic, providing free advice and legal representation for students dealing with tenant-landlord issues.
The plan also supports the efforts of a group called the Campus Partners’ Safety Committee, which was put in place to improve the safety of the city’s residents and develop an implementation plan. The plan includes a uniform and improved level of property maintenance.
“I’ve felt for a very very long time that [UB] needed to take a very aggressive stance toward working with others to improve that housing,” Taylor said. “The little things that they could do, like financing a process by which they make their own evaluation of every housing unit in this area, so that students could come to some facility on campus and immediately identify properties that were approved by the university to rent in.”
Taylor thinks that by working closely with the city, UB should create a “university zone” where the city could work with UB to patrol all of the rental properties in the area and do rigorous inspections. Taylor also thinks University Police should work more closely with the Buffalo Police Department.
The University Heights district is out of UPD’s jurisdiction, and Lieutenant Dave Urbanek says UPD is rarely called into the city for incidents involving students. Urbanek said that UB will periodically run a joint detail throughout the year merely to assist the city. Though students are still under Buffalo Police-patrolled areas, Ryan urges them to lease with caution.
“I would encourage students, before they sign a rental agreement, to look at the statistics,” Ryan said. “Students living on campus, in a relative meaning, are in a safe environment. Compared to the students living off campus, our police cannot protect you off campus the way they can on campus. Too many times, students end up victims of a crime.”
The actions of students – unsupervised by absentee landlords – have also contributed to the decline of the University Heights. A blogger, publicly known only as “The Answer Lady,” often posts photos of student housing surrounded by party trash, complaints of neighbors who couldn’t sleep because of noise, and other information related to students’ behavior on the weekends. She also blogs about the increased crime rates in the neighborhood in recent years.
“The frats/sports houses, along with other assorted wannabes, also function as drinking gangs and speakeasies (illegal bars),” reads a September 2009 post on the blog. “They can be extremely disruptive and destructive to the neighborhood around them.”
The Answer Lady declined a phone interview with The Spectrum.
The Spectrum could not reach Buffalo Police spokesman Mike DeGeorge or University District Common Councilwoman Bonnie Russell.
By LISA EPSTEIN