Both students and property owners near the city's colleges will be harmed by the off-campus limits being imposed.
On its website, St. Paul claims that it is "the most livable city in America." For students living off-campus near the University of St. Thomas, this will not be true after a permanent housing ordinance will take effect on today.
The ordinance will prohibit owner-occupied housing from being converted to student rentals within 150 feet of existing student rentals. This will cause many difficulties for current and future students of St. Thomas, Macalester College and St. Catherine University who seek to live off-campus in the overlay district zoning area.
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 communities. There is no denying that these problems exist in these neighborhoods and that there is much yet to be done to combat them. However, the ordinance passed by the St. Paul City Council is a step in the wrong direction.
The Student Housing Overlay District impedes on property rights. The city will dictate which houses can be rented to students in the district. This will interfere with the natural processes of the housing market.
What would happen if a homeowner decided to sell his or her home in the overlay district with the ordinance in place? If that homeowner lived next to a student rental, the property could not be acquired by a landlord with the intention of converting it to a student rental.
Students place a high premium on property close to campus and might very well pay a higher price in rent than a family would for the same property. It is conceivable, then, that the seller receive less than if the ordinance were not in place.
As a student at St. Thomas, I can assure you that there is a high demand for off-campus housing near the university. Housing on campus fills up quickly, and students who choose to move off-campus tend to save large amounts of money.
For these reasons, it is important that off-campus housing remain a viable option for current and future students. If student enrollment continues to increase, it will be extremely difficult to commission new student rentals; students may be forced to move to areas outside the overlay district or pay higher rent for spaces that are available.
In addition to its violation of property rights, the housing ordinance discriminates against students. While students are not a protected class under the law, students in the overlay district will not be treated the same as individuals of the same age who are not students and live within the overlay district. This would be at odds with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants equal protection to all individuals.
From the perspective of a college student, it is quite evident why this ordinance is a poor attempt to solve neighborhood problems near the University of 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 its students.
The correct course of action should be to have students, area universities and unhappy residents come to a mutual understanding on these issues and work to find an alternative solution. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "A House divided against itself cannot stand." It is easy to see that a neighborhood divided against itself cannot stand, either.
Andrew Hasek is cochairman of the newly formed Students against the Saint Paul Student Housing Ordinance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.