Letter: Jennings’ Wrong on Off-Campus Housing Issues
To the Editor-
In a column published in the Stevens Point Journal on Aug. 4 of this year entitled “Is UWSP responsible for off-campus student behavior?”, Councilwoman Tori Jennings suggests shifting responsibility from the city police department to the university when dealing with off campus student misconduct.
This suggestion falls short as it fails to grasp the nuances at the base of the situation; issues like affordable student housing, alternative housing options, and new and direct routes of student-resident communication.
To fully grasp the issue, one must first understand both the negative and positive aspects of the student community in our city. As fall semester begins we must keep in mind that students compose a large portion of our local workforce. In time out of class, these students work the jobs many local residents wouldn’t, while simultaneously buying from our businesses, giving a much needed stimulus to our local economy every year.
These students also host many events open to the public on- and off-campus, as well as lending creativity and diversity to our city.
These young adults are truly an integral part of Stevens Point’s identity, and won’t be leaving any time soon. So how do we begin to develop a solution to issues such as noise violations and property neglect?
Firstly, alternative housing options must be considered. Many run down student houses are owned by a very small number of property management companies that often neglect maintenance and upkeep.
This in turn fuels neglect on the side of the student tenants. Updating codes to allow for cohabitation and co-ownership, and an introduction of broader rent-to-own options are great first steps.
If housing were made more affordable for young adults beginning their financial journey, a sense of accountability toward the property and surrounding neighborhood would arise.
When it comes to resident-student communication, there is a prevailing assumption that the culprits will not be willing to cooperate and contacting the police must be the first step. This assumption not only exacerbates the misunderstanding and distance a young adult may feel toward their neighbors, it also creates a culture of dependency and dis-empowerment within the community as a whole.
This alienation often causes students to move out of the city after graduation, adversely affecting our local economy and sacrificing innovative ideas that could transform our town for the better. Instead of promoting a culture of indirect communication, we should treat these young adults like the people they are: our neighbors.
We should lend accountability and responsibility to the situation by first and foremost communicating directly when an issue arises. Only by taking this first step will these young adults feel like neighbors who are personally responsible for any action they take that will affect the neighborhood.
If this communication fails, we should look to organizations like the Old Main Neighborhood Association (OMNA) as a model for alternative routes of communication within the neighborhood.
As a representative of a district composed heavily of students, I believe Councilwoman Jennings misses the mark completely when discussing issues that come with off-campus student housing.
In order to find real solutions to this problem, it is essential an open and direct dialogue be established as opposed to a one-way complaint box. Both short term and long term residents need to be involved in the discussion, as well as our city officials.
After all, the issue involves folks that not only study here, but will hopefully remain our neighbors and coworkers after graduation.
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