Cities crack down on student 'slums'
A faded United States flag hangs from the peeling front porch of the "Blue Barn," a well-known residence near the North Carolina State University campus where a punk band called Corrosion of Conformity once made its home.Skip to next paragraph
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Inside, the lights glow dimly, and tiny heaters keep the bedrooms warm. Empty bottles, an old upright bass, and abandoned artwork serve as reminders of late-night jam sessions and noisy student get-togethers.
As in hundreds of other such domiciles scattered around the western cusp of Raleigh, the comfort of home lies not in leather couches and petit fours, but in mismatched chairs, cheap rent, and peanut butter and jelly "sammies."
No one knows how much longer this tradition will be able to survive, though. Raleigh and other university towns are getting ready to yank the welcome mat as "student ghettoes" spring up in once-quiet cul-de-sacs - the result of a decade of college enrollments that far outpace dorm construction.
Plans are under way across the country to put stricter codes on houses where unrelated people live together, a move that some say could mean eviction of students on the basis of their lifestyle.
For many residents of these cheap houses, the debate is as much about the right to live as you please as it is about keeping the neighborhood peace.
"This is what you would call social engineering," says Peter Eichenberger, a former North Carolina State student and now an indie journalist living in the Blue Barn. "All I want is a place for cheap where I can write and not have to work too hard, but now they're starting to try to manipulate the demographics of the city based on how you live your life."
The sheer numbers of these new academic neighborhoods is what's causing the tension. Once the number of boarding houses starts to increase in a given neighborhood, it's like gentrification in reverse, some say. In many towns, it's led to established families moving out rather than dealing with their collegiate neighbors' often messy and noisy ways, and the resulting drop in property values.
"It's a huge issue: There isn't a lot of student-oriented housing being built and enrollment is just increasing," says Lanier Blum, the director of the Regional Center for Affordable Living in Durham, N.C. "This ... has put a lot more pressure on neighborhoods."
Matt Spence, a member of the North Carolina University student government board, says proponents of the new code want students to demand more campus housing. But the university already provides 28 percent of its students with housing, he says, placing it at the national average.
"[The proposal is] basically trying to limit our choices as to where we can live and force us into massive student-housing complexes, which are more expensive," Mr. Spence says.
There's a similar space crunch near the picturesque campus of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, a stone's throw from Lake Michigan.
Situated in a wealthy neighborhood of turn-of-the century homes, the school now has nearly 7,000 18- to 23-year-olds living off campus. Some of them have scared off families by moving into large houses and setting them up as lairs of late-night cramming. As with many urban universities, the campus is "landlocked," college officials say, meaning there isn't enough room to build new dorms.