Last step before the voting on the ordinance to regulate student housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

An important ordinance aimed at regulating student housing especially around Lehigh University is working its way through the City bureaucracy.

The genesis of this ordinance probably goes back twenty, maybe even thirty years and is associated with Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalic’s grim depictions of the manifestly deleterious effect that the uncontrolled growth of student housing is having on traditional neighborhoods on the Southside around Lehigh University.

In recent years the chant for taking action to protect those neighborhoods and the quality of resident life therein is associated with Councilwoman Negron.

And see powerful recent statements supporting this ordinance by Anna Smith here and here.

In recent years DCED director Alicia Karner and Planning Director Darlene Heller have worked with all parties involved to bring the “Student Housing Overlay District” ordinance to the brink of a Council vote.

This student overlay ordinance proscribes a regulated geographical district of student housing. Current student housing outside that district is “grandfathered” as long as it continues to be licensed and inspected. New student housing outside the district is permissible but with fewer students allowed than housing inside the district.

Here from the ordinance itself is the statement of purpose:

The proposed ordinance has received substantial recent attention: at a Community Development Committee meeting October 22 (many resident voices for the ordinance, a few opposed), at a Planning Commission Meeting, at City Council December 15.

And now substantial attention at a Public Hearing before the City Council meeting February 2, where landlord voices opposed to the ordinance predominated (Council video mins 28:00-1:01:50), questioning such things as the inadequately narrow size of the overlay, parking, and the nature of grandfathering. Here is an example of a landlord comment.

The familiar voices of Southside long-time residents Anne Evans and Seth Moglen were heard after the landlord calls. Gadfly always like to point you to models of effective resident commentary, and he suggests that you listen to these calls by Evans and Moglen countering the landlords by honing in on the important intention of the ordinance. Evans speaks of the need to protect the availability of affordable housing on the Southside, and Moglen urges Council to see that the landlord arguments to expand the overlay boundaries are precisely the reason the ordinance is needed.

As far as Gadfly can tell, Council sentiment has unanimously favored this ordinance at every step. Landlord questions were explored with the City representatives Tuesday night, especially by Councilman Callahan, and all seemed to be resolved.

The ordinance will now appear on the City Council agenda for first reading and vote February 16.

Frankly, this feels like one of the most important actions by Council in the time that Gadfly has been Council-watching, and he hopes the ordinance succeeds as it seems destined to.

One thought on “Last step before the voting on the ordinance to regulate student housing

  1. I’d like to recognize Anne Evans’ contributions to the movement to regulate student housing on the Southside. At an organizing meeting last summer, Anne arrived with her personal student housing archive of newspaper articles, photos, and op-eds dating back over 30 years. Anne has been working to protect the quality of life on the Southside since before I was born, and throughout her time on the Southside she has seen her Montclair neighborhood transformed from family-oriented street to an almost exclusively student housing area. Despite offering her no personal benefit, Anne has lent her voice, time, energy, and experience to the current student housing overlay push so that no other Southside neighborhood will experience what she saw on her street. While Stephen Antalics has been a loud voice on the issue (like so many other issues), Anne truly laid the foundation for the current zoning changes through decades of activism and work with Lehigh and directly with her student neighbors. We are so lucky to have Anne on the Southside!

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