Staff Editorial: Housing hypocrisy in the City of Williamsburg

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February 20, 2007

2:45 PM

Last Friday, The Flat Hat first reported the latest chapter in the ongoing debate about Williamsburg’s three-person housing rule, when at least 38 students residing in six off-campus houses were found to be in violation of the controversial law. Tenants were offered an opportunity to sign a document saying they were violating the law, after which the city would allow them to remain in their houses until the end of the semester; still, the city’s stated reasons for offering these concessions are indicative of a policy that is generally unfair and largely geared toward discouraging students from seeking off-campus housing.

p. The city, both at the time of the law’s implementation and at now, has argued that property values are diminished due to damages by over-occupancy. Yet the students who were reprimanded all lived in houses that are in excellent condition (see page 1). By placing unreasonable restrictions on owners’ ability to rent their property, Williamsburg is decreasing property values more than any group of four well-behaved College students could.

p. According to Williamsburg Zoning Administrator Rod Rhodes, the main complaints about these houses did not center around noise complaints, but rather a decreased number of parking spaces available on the street. As any student with a car on campus knows, parking in Williamsburg is limited, and students who abuse their parking privileges by blocking residents’ spots should pay a fine and limit their parking in the future. But to serve notice to 38 students, and limit all students’ housing options in the future by stepping up enforcement of the rule solely because of a parking violation is a gross over reaction. Williamsburg’s past behavior toward students, including imposing arbitrary standards on students wishing to vote in the city, suggests that the rule is less about what the residents of these houses are doing, and more about who they are.

p. The three-person limit on off-campus housing has been a point of contention between students and the city for years. It leads students to feel as if they are treated like second-class citizens, souring what could be a powerful and mutally beneficial relationship. Students donate thousands of hours of community service to the Williamsburg community every year, but student leaders remain focused on the issues of housing and voting. The city’s continued insistence on this rule robs both College and city of the potential benefits of a more friendly relationship.

p. Threatening to evict students, and, in a sense, coercing them into signing an incriminating document of guilt, is surely not an effective or just way to solve a parking issue. Moreover, the city’s shifting rhetoric in regard to the three-person policy — ranging from property damage, to concerns of partying and noise violations and now parking — underscores the point that the city’s motives are aimed at preventing students from living off campus.

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