Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Letter to the WWU Presidential Selection Committee

I forwarded this letter by email today to the WWU presidential search committee:

"This letter is intended as a follow-up to comments made at the 15 January session at which citizen input was welcomed as a part of the selection process for a new president of WWU. One individual expressed his concern about the large area of the city now covered by students who rent individual homes in residential areas and, thereby cause a deterioration in the character of the neighborhoods by their large numbers, parties, noise, litter, parking infractions, etc.

There are actually two issues here which are intertwined but necessarily have solutions rooted in different jurisdictions. The first is issue is that of illegal rooming houses in the city, the result of decades of neglect in enforcement of the city’s own zoning laws on single family zoning. This problem is finally being addressed by order of the City Council; however, the outcome of its efforts will not be realized, if at all, for many months. The illegal rooming houses exist also as a result of a pressure for affordable housing, which the city has also ignored, preferring evidently the illegal rooming houses as a sponge to accommodate those who cannot afford other modes of housing.

The second issue is that, by dint of its size, the university, which attracts over 12,000 students each year, is the largest source of rental seekers and forces on the housing market thousands of students who cannot be otherwise accommodated in the dormitories on campus. To this point, there has been an unspoken symbiosis between the city and the university with the university “obtaining” no-cost, off-campus housing, partially in the form of illegal rooming houses, and the city turning its head from the enforcement of codes which would eliminate these illegal rentals.

This hidden "collusion" no longer works as the single family homeowners are demanding enforcement of codes and are becoming more vocal regarding the effect of large numbers of students in their neighborhoods and the deleterious effects therefrom. At the same time, the citizens see the construction of new of academic structures on campus (the most recent costing almost $50 million) and a vigorous push for expansion of WWU to the waterfront. There is no talk from the university regarding the manner in which current students, let alone additional students attracted by the waterfront campus, will be housed. There is little talk of additional on-campus housing – one new dorm in the next few years, maybe. Yet the university, in papers released to a former mayoral candidate, appears to be eager to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and invite proposals for public-private partnerships in order to obtain and maintain a foothold at the waterfront. There is no concomitant effort to enter into public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for the thousands of students who are deposited on the community each year and who are propelled into an uncontrolled, unlicensed and unregulated rental market. One would think that the university would have more concern for the health and welfare of its students by demanding that the city place controls on such dwellings."

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