Think Jay Benanav is bad? I was his neighbor

Kudos to the Daily editorial board for bringing attention to the actions of Jay Benanav. It is information every student renting near the Minneapolis campus should also be aware of, as the St. Paul City Council member’s ideologies are oozing their way into the neighborhoods near Dinkytown with the help of Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby.

Because I used to live by Benanav, I can testify to his and my other former St. Paul neighbors’ attitudes toward student-renters. For those unfamiliar with Benanav and the sudden advent of his hand in the local politics of University-area residences, here is a brief synopsis.

In the area encompassing the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, there is a long-standing division between residents and students that is bordering on civil war as the university has attempted to expand.

Residents near St. Thomas have been fighting this expansion for years out of fear that the increased number of students it will introduce into their community will disrupt the upper-class equilibrium and degentrify the well-to-do neighborhoods encompassing Summit and Grand avenues.

Benanav, who lives near St. Thomas, has been the premier advocate for these efforts through enacting radical, inane policies to alienate students who rent near campus.

Such policies range from an undercover party patrol with tactics and repercussions closely paralleling the Gestapo (a minor consumption ticket in St. Paul comes with a side order of one year of probation, 24 hours of community service, alcohol awareness classes and random urinary tests, along with a fine ranging over $300) to Benanav’s recent proposal to force student rental properties to be no less than 350 feet apart. Benanav justified this policy by stating he simply wanted to “promote diversity” among campus communities.

Well, how noble of him. Apparently, to Benanav, the term diversity entails producing a social structure hinged somewhere between Mayberry and Nazi Germany, where Matlock reruns can be watched with the comfort of knowing that the student “parasite” population is safely diluted, thus preventing the erosion of the moral fabric of the neighborhood.

Although Benanav has dropped the 350-foot proposal for the time being, his idea to require a “special license” for landlords who rent to students is now up on the Jan. 5 council docket. The special license is touted as a way to improve the safety of student houses.

Benanav is teaming up with Zerby to push new methods of student alienation, in his own and other neighborhoods as well. The recent emphasis on student-tenant “safety” surrounding University rental properties has afforded Benanav the perfect opportunity to camouflage his policies of student alienation behind the illusion of a benevolent crusade for “safety.”

I find this ironic because of the fact that when I lived in a rental house in St. Paul on the same block as Benanav less than a year ago, my two roommates and I encountered several less-than-safe attributes of our house which our less-than-responsible landlord would consistently avoid taking care of. Fed up with our landlord, we asked Benanav – on more than one occasion – to get a city inspector to our house. Despite his devout “concern” for student safety, no inspectors ever showed.

When we first moved into our home, Benanav basically walked right into my house, uninvited. I was in my room and heard two knocks and then footsteps immediately following. I hollered hello and went downstairs and there he was, standing in my living room, surveying his surroundings. Benanav introduced himself, and I, completely naive, thought he was just a friendly neighbor. Following that occurrence, he would occasionally wander over, pretending to be neighborly, but really it was just an excuse for him to snoop.

Aside from these experiences, living in Benanav’s neighborhood afforded my roommates and me the opportunity to experience facets of Benanomics.

We were never allowed, for instance, for any given amount of time, to park our cars on the section of the public street in front of any house but our own. Parking in front of other houses usually resulted in not a warning, but rather the car of the resident of the house parked close enough to our bumpers that we often couldn’t drive away from the curb.

Additionally, police were called to our house at least once a week, usually to find no more than three or four people having a cigarette on the back porch, in which case, the officer would laugh as he or she called off their backup – yes, backup. Sometimes the neighbors called at about 10 p.m. on the weekend just on the presumption that we obviously would be having a party. The cop, usually arriving from 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., would often be confused, thinking he or she had the wrong house.

The neighbors’ actions basically came to the point of harassment. They could do whatever they wanted because they had Benanav to back them up, having even touted such to us.

It is because of these types of problems that I moved, this year, to the Southeast Como neighborhood, in hopes of living in a community that embraced students as fellow human beings, rather than instinctively forsaking them as social detriments. To my dismay, it seems as though that might be about to change with the recent collaborations of Benanav and Zerby, unless University students take a stand and express their voices as valid members of the community, undeserving of the discrimination that tunnel visionaries such as Benanav and Zerby are bringing our way.

This in mind, I urge all student tenants to go on Wednesday to the St. Paul public hearing on the special license proposal and let Benanav know there is no market for his brand of “diversity” and “safety” in our neighborhoods.

Jason Trask is a third-year mechanical engineering student. He welcomes comments at [email protected]