By Jerry Weitz
Many students of ECU are interested in securing standard and decent off-campus housing, and their parents are concerned about living conditions in off-campus neighborhoods.
I therefore propose that City Council consider, for the reasons discussed below, a “Resolution of Agreement Between the City of Greenville, North Carolina, and East Carolina University, Establishing a Livable Housing Standards Consensus Committee and for the Purpose of Establishing, Promoting, and Marketing a Certified Livable Student Housing Program.”
Greenville and ECU Should Respond
The City of Greenville through its various departments is responsible for public health, safety, and welfare of all of its citizens, including responsibility for the enforcement of building and housing codes and other city ordinances. Housing codes of the city require a certain minimum level of housing safety, but those codes do not necessarily ensure livability.
It is in the best interests of East Carolina University (ECU) that students of the University have access to standard and decent housing, both on-campus and off, and to that end ECU has participated in funding a code enforcement officer employed by the City of Greenville who is assigned generally to the College Hill neighborhood.
Private associations representing interests in College View, including the Tar River University Neighborhood Association and the University Neighborhood Association, and other neighborhoods adjacent to East Carolina University, share a concern for the conditions of the neighborhoods in which students and others in the city reside. Owners of properties in College View and other neighborhoods near ECU share an interest in marketing their properties for student living, and providing standard and decent housing while gaining returns on their investments.
Proposal for Livable Housing Standards
If one accepts that the living conditions of students in the College View and other neighborhoods are in some cases not acceptable, then there exists a need to gain consensus on how to improve the situation. I propose a solution: that livability standards for housing units be developed. We are concerned in particular with those housing units occupied primarily by ECU and other college students, but the solution is potentially appropriate city-wide, or in a larger geographic area than that established by the University Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Livable housing standards need to be developed in a broad, consensus-based process, with the input of all stakeholders.
My resolution, which I pose for consideration first by the City of Greenville, is as follows:
Be it resolved, by the undersigned parties, that the partnership described herein is hereby established.
1. Establishment.There shall be a livable student housing consensus committee established for the purposes of initiating a voluntary program of livable housing for students.
2. Composition. The Livable Student Housing Program Committee will be comprised of the following members:
- The community development director of the City of Greenville or his or her designee; and
- The code enforcement manager of the City of Greenville or his or her designee; and
- The manager of the Office of Student Services of ECU or his or her designee: and
- The Dean of Students of ECU or his or her designee; and
- The president of the Student Government Association (student in good standing) or his or her designee; and
- A representative of the University Neighborhood Association; and
- A representative of the Tar River University Neighborhood Association; and
- One representative appointed by the Mayor of the City of Greenville; and
- One representative appointed by the Council member elected at large in the City of Greenville; and
- One member of the Council member elected to represent District 3 of the City of Greenville.
- One member appointed by the Neighborhood Advisory Board.
3. Charge. The charge of the committee shall include at minimum but may not necessarily be limited to the following:
- Researching, establishing, and adopting voluntary livable housing standards which may include the square feet of heated floor space per adult resident, the number of bathrooms per adult resident, and other such metrics or measures pertaining to the internal and external livability of housing units and neighborhoods; and
- Establishing an inspection and verification program jointly administered and managed by the City of Greenville and East Carolina University to determine whether livable housing standards are met in the case of individual housing units in a defined area, upon application, and certifying the same as livable housing when such livable housing standards have been verified to be met; and
- Facilitating non-monetary guidance and technical assistance to property owners who do not meet such livable housing standards but who desire to have one or more housing units certified as livable; and
- Establish a formal program and execute such program to promote and encourage ECU students to seek occupancy in livable housing units certified as such by the aforementioned program.
4. Adoption. This resolution shall become effective upon its adoption by the City Council of the City of Greenville, NC, and upon its adoption by or signature of consent of the Chancellor of East Carolina University.
5. Appointments. The committee established by this resolution of agreement shall initiate activities immediately upon appointment of all constituent members and shall proceed with all deliberate speed to satisfy its charge as stated herein.
6. Duration. Said committee shall design and execute the program established in this resolution and agreement within no later than 180 days from the date of full appointment of members as described in this resolution, unless the time frame for establishing the program is extended by resolution of the city and ECU. As a voluntary program, upon its establishment, the aforementioned program shall continue in full force and effect, though the city or ECU may withdraw its support for the program at any time.
7. Limitations. This agreement shall not bind the City of Greenville or East Carolina University to provide resources toward the purpose stated herein that are not already provided by the City and the University, without its express consent, other than the agreement to facilitate meetings for the committee.
8. Geography. The program herein shall apply initially to the University Neighborhood Livability Initiative overlay district established by the City of Greenville in its zoning ordinance, but may be extended to any other area or neighborhood in the city as considered appropriate by the committee established in this resolution.
Rationale for the Resolution
The public should be concerned about the conditions of some of the housing units that student live in, and for that matter, for all households who live in substandard conditions. The city and ECU are partners that should move to consider my suggested resolution. There is little risk associated with trying it, but there is potential significant gain. Give it some thought and comment here if you can predict likely consequences, positive or negative, if the resolution were adopted and implemented. And by the way, I’m not going to spell the political ramifications out here, because I want you to contemplate the full idea. Suggestions for refinement are welcome here. If we are serious about improving off-campus student housing conditions, we have a proposal that I hope will be considered.
Weitz, a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, directs the Urban and Regional Planning Program at East Carolina University. He is also a member of the Greenville Planning and Zoning Commission.