By Andrew Hasek
On its city website, Saint Paul, MN claims that it is “the most livable city in America.” For students living off campus near the University of St. Thomas, this statement will not even be remotely true after a permanent housing ordinance will take effect on August 8th, 2012. The ordinance in question will prohibit new student rental houses within 150 feet of existing student rental houses. This ordinance, while it does not take effect until August, long after most students have chosen where they will live for the upcoming school year, will cause burdens for current and future St. Thomas students that seek to live off campus as well as students from neighboring schools such as Macalester and St. Kate’s who live in the affected zoning area.
On June 20th, 2012 the Saint Paul City Council passed the Student Housing Overlay District and Fire Inspection Requirements against the recommendation of a planning commission which suggested the same ordinance not be adopted. The ordinance was adopted in an attempt to remedy supposed “overcrowding, excessive vehicular traffic, demand for available parking, noise, and nuisance” complaints from residents of the Merriam Park and Macalester Groveland communities. It should be to nobody’s surprise that these problems would occur near a college campus, especially St. Thomas which has been in the neighborhood since 1885. Plain and simple, the ordinance that the Saint Paul City Council adopted discriminates against students. Instead of working with students and the surrounding universities to solve these problems, residents of Merriam Park and Macalester Groveland have alienated their student population through the use of zoning restrictions.
The Student Housing Overlay District and Fire Inspection Requirements, the ordinance in question, is an abominable approach to solving these issues. In principle, the ordinance is taking private property rights from students. Students should have the same rights to owning and renting a home as any other residents of these communities. In addition to violating private property rights, this ordinance will undoubtedly make it more difficult for students to find rental units in the future. Ask any current St. Thomas student about the housing situation on campus; they will tell you that all campus housing units fills up extremely fast. The ordinance will limit future conversion of houses to rental units and will act as a quota on how many houses are available. Housing options off campus will be scarce and limited. St. Thomas students will then be forced to live further away from campus. The zoning restrictions will also limit the options that the University of St. Thomas has if it desires to expand in the future.
Not only will this ordinance tear to shreds the cohesion of the St. Thomas community, it is a relatively unwarranted attack against the rights of students. The correct course of action should be to have students, the University of St. Thomas, and angry residents come to a mutual understanding on these issues. I can only hope that students will become aware of this issue and stand up against this housing ordinance.