Locals react to House Bill 809

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website, the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website and The Mercury‘s website.
The Pennsylvania House of Representative’s Local Government Committee met in West Chester to listen to residents of the Commonwealth — from realtors to commissioners and mayors —testify either in favor or against House Bill 809. (Candice Monhollan)

The Pennsylvania House of Representative’s Local Government Committee met in West Chester to listen to residents of the Commonwealth — from realtors to commissioners and mayors —testify either in favor or against House Bill 809. (Candice Monhollan)

WEST CHESTER — Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania House of Representative’s Local Government Committee met in West Chester to listen to residents of the Commonwealth — from realtors to commissioners and mayors —testify either in favor or against House Bill 809.

The bill will effectively end any municipality’s ordinances which look to stop or restrict the ability of college students from renting properties off campus.

In other words, college students will be able to rent a house or apartment whether they’d like in a city or town.

“I’m for approved student housing,” said Melissa Megee, a resident of the borough. “They should control where the students live that way they can control noise ordinances because they’re truly temporary residents when they live here. I don’t know if they have as much respect for the town as full-time residents do.”

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

Kerry King, a rising senior at West Chester University, has a friend who currently is running into trouble trying to find a place to live because of the borough’s current ordinances.

“He has gone to all these different places and nobody will rent to him because he’s a student,” she said. “Or he’s finding places and they’re just too expensive and that’s technically because they know students won’t pay $900 per month for rent. It’s hard finding housing here.”

West Chester’s ordinances control where students may rent off campus and the limit of them in an area, as well.

If House Bill 809 were to pass, the borough would no longer be able to control the density levels of students in neighborhoods.

“We would love for there to be a few students living on every block of the borough,” said West Chester’s Mayor Carolyn Comitta. “And they are everywhere. The problem is not the students — the problem is the density. We have a responsibility as a university-host community to help our young people grow and mature and become fine, upstanding, contributing citizens.

“Many of them are, but some are still learning. It’s part of our job. When they live in a neighborhood and they can model the behavior of their neighbors who are not all students, they can learn something.”

Not only is density a concern, but so is the level of mischief.

During a period of a few years, the student-density level showed a drastic different in police services in the borough.

In the southwest neighborhood with single-family dwellings, there were only 61 calls, while in a southeast student-rental neighborhood had 1,111 during the same time frame.

“We think the passage of (House Bill) 809 would negatively impact our residents’ quality of life by destabilizing neighborhoods within our community,” said Scott Bohn, the West Chester Chief of Police. “It would have a negative impact on community safety and a negative impact on the cooperative efforts that we have worked very hard with the university on.”

State Rep. Sue Helm, primary sponsor of the bill, felt college students were an unprotected class in the country, as did some realtors present to testify Monday at the hearing.

“Our goal is to end the possibility of there being any discrimination against students when they are looking for a place to live while attending classes in college communities across the Commonwealth,” Helm said. “Students should not be discriminated against simply because they are students.”

A realtor who has properties he rents to students in the borough, who preferred to remain anonymous, felt people were abusing “discrimination” to get their bill through.

“I feel that the bill is a smokescreen for (realtors) to fill their pockets,” he said. “They are not out to help. They are attempting to use the so-called ‘protect the students’ and say people have to rent to students. Effectively, they are asking the state to make the decision and not the local government.”

King, who lives in The Edge, refused to ever search for an apartment because of how difficult the task would be.

Though at the same time, she can understand the concern of the citizens.

“People don’t want to live next to students and I can understand that, too,” she said. “It’s tough because not all students like to party, but you don’t know what kind of student you’re going to get next to you.”

All the residents of the borough can do right now is voice their worries with their local representatives.

“I chose to live here to be amongst other full-time residents,” Megee said. “I really don’t want to live next to temporary students next to me and my quality of life would go down.”

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Categories: Community, Education

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