St. Paul ordinance would disperse student housing

Nathan Halverson

Students will be dispersed in neighborhoods around the University’s St. Paul campus if an ordinance proposed by St. Paul City Council member Jay Benanav, 4th Ward, is passed.

Benanav proposed legislation that would ban houses rented by students from being within 350 feet of one another.

The objective is to have no more than one student house per block, Benanav said.

Benanav, who represents neighborhoods surrounding the St. Paul campus, said the effort to disperse students is similar to the motives behind scattering the mentally ill in group homes.

“Students can be treated differently, according to the Supreme Court,” Benanav said.

“It’s an effort to have a variety of tenants in the neighborhood,” he said.

The law applies to houses and duplexes, but not to apartments, greek housing or any building associated with an educational institution. And housing that is currently occupied by students will not be affected until the house is sold to another owner.

The law will apply to all post-secondary students, including graduate students and technical school students.

Benanav said the University had indicated some early support.

But Jan Morlock, University Relations director, attended a presentation on the ordinance and said the University had no comment.

“All of this has been theoretical so far and it will need to be considered in more depth before the University comments on it,” she said.

Benanav said the main reason for the ordinance is increasing the value of homes in college neighborhoods.

“It’s important to keep the housing stock up in St. Paul,” Benanav said. “We certainly like to increase the tax base.”

The city is allocated 25 percent of its property taxes, Benanav said.

A similar ordinance was passed in 1997 in State College, Pa., where Penn State University is located. However, the State College law is less restrictive. Houses need only be spaced 225 feet apart. Also, any house currently rented to students in State College is not affected, even if the house is sold to another owner.

In contrast, the St. Paul ordinance would require students to relocate if their house is sold to another owner and there is already a student house within 350 feet.

The long-term effect of the ordinance will reduce the number of houses available to students within a given proximity to the University.

But Benanav said St. Paul residents who live in neighborhoods have the right to better communities.

He also said students will get better housing as a result.

However, Herman Slaybaugh, a State College zoning officer, said student housing has not improved as a result of the ordinance.

Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, said he had not heard of a similar bill for Minneapolis. But he said he would be interested in learning more about it.

Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]