Paul Zerby will be missed as people reflect on his record

Zerby is from a different time, when people disagreed without resorting to character assassination.

Several recent articles and opinion pieces in the Daily have characterized Paul Zerby, Ward 2 City Council member who represents the Minneapolis campus and surrounding area, as anti-student, in part because he proposed a modification of city ordinances governing unruly parties. In criticizing Zerby’s proposal, a Dec. 1 Daily editorial wrongfully claimed that in a Nov. 16 Daily commentary, Zerby cited Minneapolis ordinances limiting rental property occupancy as one of his major achievements benefiting students. I read Zerby’s article carefully. The three things he cited as accomplishments were improved rental conditions for students, improved street lighting in response to requests by sorority students and easier access to polls for student voters. He does not mention occupancy standards. The Daily editorial board doesn’t have to like Zerby, but it has a duty to quote him accurately. The housing ordinances and zoning codes limiting occupancy of rental properties were all in place long before Zerby was elected to the City Council. There are large concentrations of rental properties throughout the city. Most of these properties are rented by nonstudents. Since the ordinances apply to all of these properties, it is unlikely they are intended to discriminate against students.

There are myths that accompany any discussion of occupancy codes. The first is that these codes are aggressively enforced against students. The reality is that the codes are not aggressively enforced anywhere in the city. The Daily printed articles predicting that hundreds of students would be displaced during the inspection sweeps two years ago. Only a few students were displaced, even though the sweeps revealed a number of over-occupied units.

Myth number two is that occupancy limits make renting more expensive for students. The opposite is true. Landlords who comply with the limits generally rent their properties for a fair price. Landlords who violate the occupancy limits inflate the prices of their properties. Students who rent near the University generally pay between $400 and $600 per month per person to live in houses or duplexes. A lease for three people sharing a house in this market should be about $1,500 per month, depending on conditions. In spite of this, I reviewed a lease for a single house near campus zoned for up to five unrelated occupants with a rent of $4,400 per month, plus utilities! If everyone respected the limits, there would be no leases like that.

A third myth is that students are the driving force behind over-occupancy. In fact, there are few instances where students over-occupy properties without the landlord’s knowledge and consent. Landlords aren’t concerned about getting caught because there have been no real consequences. As an attorney for University Student Legal Service, I have spent 20 years advancing students’ rights and interests. I not only work for students, but also I live with them in the Como Southeast neighborhood near campus. I am a board member of the Southeast Como Improvement Association. I have lived in the 2nd Ward for 24 years, including three years as a student. In my view, Zerby has done more to advance positive relationships between City Hall, the neighborhoods, the University and students than anyone else.

The three things Zerby mentioned in his commentary are just a small sample of the things he has accomplished for the benefit of students. He worked to strengthen city ordinances so landlords who continually violate housing codes can be held immediately accountable. This is good for any student that rents. When the City Council established a committee to review housing codes, Zerby made sure that Student Legal Service and the Minnesota Student Association were given seats on that committee. He tried to outlaw the booting of motor vehicles in the city of Minneapolis because of past abuses. Anyone who has been booted in Stadium Village can appreciate that effort. He strongly supported expansion of the restorative justice program into the neighborhoods near the University. Because of that program, dozens of students who otherwise would have been burdened with fines and criminal records have been given the opportunity to perform community service and keep their records clean. He supported initiatives to warn students living in the neighborhoods about city towing policies so they wouldn’t find their vehicles impounded. All of these things evidence a deep concern for students.

Of course, it is not nearly so fun to praise a man as it is to cut him down. John Hoff’s Dec. 1 column is proof of that. Hoff accuses Zerby of introducing an unruly party ordinance as “one last vindictive slap at students.” Anyone who has ever met Zerby would know that he has never taken a vindictive slap at anyone. Zerby is from a different time, when people somehow found a way to disagree without engaging in character assassination. He is one of the most thoroughly decent people I have ever met. I, for one, will miss him.

Bill Dane is an attorney for the University’s Student Legal Service. Please send comments to [email protected]