Too little, too late

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January 22, 2010

12:41 AM

As far as housing goes, the past two months have been nothing if not eventful. While students have been occupied with exams and then off on winter break, the city has been taking steps away from its tired stall tactics and toward finally taking some action — even if for worse as often as for better. Although the City of Williamsburg’s strategy may have changed, the fundamentals of this game remain: Even with the recent modifications to the three-person rule, progressive as they may seem, students are still not getting the respect they deserve in town-gown relations, and so it remains time to take power into our own hands by electing favorable representation.

After the city cracked down on three-person rule violations in seven houses across town, a window opened that allowed for the passing of new modifications to the housing code. Previously, entrenched anti-student representatives would not budge because they felt the three-person rule was already too weak so long as it was unenforceable. With enforcement came change — a give and take.

But we are skeptical that students are receiving as much as they gave. Yes, we got a brand new “four-person rule,” but it wasn’t anything close to what we needed. This bill is, in fact, merely a political solution that by design will not produce results. Its stipulations limit the impact of its expansion, ensuring that only a handful of houses in town benefit from the change. As a result, there will be no general release of pressure in the area around campus, and it will not become easier to find close housing — much less to afford it — for the vast majority of student renters. This will give us plenty to talk about in the new Town-Gown Relations Task Force, the nicest of a series of potentially meaningful — and likely meaningless — gestures made by the city.

With students fuming over a patronizing bill, landlords nursing an ever-so-slightly bruised bottom line, and residents fretting over the threat of Animal House-style intrusions into their neighborhoods, this bill has the workings of a great political compromise — one that leaves no one happy. And in this we see the slightest of silver linings: Previously, it seemed we were the only ones left unhappy when the city council took on this issue.

But we are not there yet — not by a long shot. Last week, with students home on break, the city council sided against students, voting down a bill that would have extended the College’s limited ability to house students in hotels when in a pinch. Landlords won the day, convincing the council that this bill would be an annoyance to their business model.

While we understand the self-interest that motivated the landlords’ arguments, the council’s decision was a lapse of judgment. The landlords claimed that there is no housing crisis in Williamsburg because they frequently are left with some vacant rental spaces, which misses the point entirely. The College wants the ability to house some students in hotels, like those who transfer to the College late in the summer, who are unable to find acceptable — meaning cheap — housing in Williamsburg. If landlords find themselves offering a product for which there is no market, can they really be seen as the victims?

Had the council held our interests to heart, it would have stood up for them. But clearly, it does not. On the one hand, it refuses us the increase in per-house capacity that we need. On the other, it refuses the expansion of campus-sponsored housing. In its opinion, the cure to all ailments is simple: The College should build new dorms. But our cash-strapped College is already doing so, building more dorms on a campus that houses the highest percentage of its student body of all public Virginia universities, military academies exempted. Maybe it’s time for some real give and take.

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