Friday, September 28, 2012

When the People Lead ...

 Amherst Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe needs a better script

Sick of town officials lip service over the serious problem of rowdy student party houses springing up all over Amherst -- no longer just the areas contiguous with our #1 employer, UMass -- neighbors in and around the traditionally impacted areas (Lincoln Avenue and Fearing Street) have taken matters into their own hands by collecting the 150 signatures necessary to get tougher warrant articles before Amherst Town Meeting next month. 

If enacted the bylaw tweaks would force town officials to address the real culprits in this sad affair: slumlords and high volume management companies who specialize in enabling slumlords. 

UMass seems to specialize in token, feel good strategies to address this serious problem, like a child trying to befriend a swarm of angry bees swirling around their downed nest.

Last year Umass, town officials and DA Dave Sullivan handed out oatmeal cookies in the southern campus while the northern sector burned.  I'm surprised none of them played a violin.

Two weeks ago on "Umass Umake a Difference Day" day 200 mature, helpful students donated their time to cleaning up the town, while 2,000 students congregated on the quad area of Townhouse apartments making a mess.  When police responded they were greeted with a barrage of cans and bottles.

Last March APD Chief Scott Livingstone appeared before the Amherst Select Board to update them, starting with this brief history, on arrests and the number of party house tickets police had handed out so far that year.  Since then the problem has only worsened.

Six months ago I asked the University for the number of sanctions handed out to fraternities and sororities the previous year.  They stonewalled my request.  Recently the town asked for information on the number of students disciplined for bad behavior.  UMass is hemming and hawing.

Simply put, only a small minority of students get rowdy -- but  a very tiny minority of them are serial partiers, who need to be shown the door.  Now!


Anonymous said...

Thank you Larry, APD, and every single person who invested their time to work on this.

Anonymous said...

Good Job, Larry

from a CAN

Walter said...

Typical Amherst politics of ignoring and sweeping things under the table. Amherst is big on preserving land and the "old-charm" feeling by denying the development of businesses and more income. Instead they allow slumlords and invisible building owners who cozy up to board members to make themselves rich. These owners create and permit dangerous and sometimes illegal housing scenarios for the entitlement generation. I've been in many of the "rentals" in Amherst and it's hard to believe they are allowed occupancy. Many have little maintenance other than an occasional coat of paint or a changed light bulb. It will take a good fire where numerous people are killed for the reality of the housing situation in Amherst to surface. Anything to keep up the appearance of a nice quiet college town.

Anonymous said...

As a member of a fraternity at UMass, I wanted to respectfully request that you also be wary of generalizing Greek Life. There are fraternities that have parties, absolutely. There are some that no longer exist on campus due to reckless behavior in the past, also. But the majority of fraternities and sororities, and the vast majority of people who are members of them, are involved in positive groups (Student Government, philanthropic organizations, mentorship for younger students, etc.)

Although it may not have been your intention, at times it seems that all Greek students and Greek organizations are lumped together under headings like "Frat Boy Frolics" or things of that nature. In many cases, we're just trying to further our positive impact in the community by joining up with equally driven people and taking a strength-in-numbers approach to make a difference.

In most cases, Greek Organizations are model students with no incidents to their names. In other cases (I'm not defending ALL incidents) parties held by fraternities are safe, regulated, and problem-free. When one individual (who is 90% of the time NOT associated with the fraternity directly) causes a problem, it reflects negatively on the entire group and upon Greek Life in General, when a huge portion of the students do what they're supposed to do every weekday and weekend. When the parties are out of control, unsafe, and reckless, most Greek students denounce the behavior as bad for all of us, just as you do. We don't support it.

With that said, I encourage you to recognize that, as with most things, the loud minority outweighs the positive benefits of the majority, and the same is true with Greek Life and it's students.

Thank You.

Tom McBride said...

I agree with the last comment in that Amherst is overly absorbed with preserving the "old charm" feeling. I wish I had though of that phrase. While open space is "nice", it's clearly UNFAIR to residents, would be residents, and business. Soon the town will be nothing but decaying student properties, $400,000 single family homes, high taxes, and everybody else will be told to GET OUT.

Dr. Ed said...

It will take a good fire or a good riot -- and I, too, fear multiple fatalities will result.

The problem is twofold and has nothing to do with the college kids. First, any objective view of code would condemn (immediately) somewhere between 50% and 90% of the student housing as outright unsafe. And if you live in a ghetto, well Stephanie, a ghetto is not a neighborhood and hence you tend not to be neighborly.

Second, UMass has more students than the infrastructure can support -- there either need to be fewer students or more urbanization of Amherst and either way, the people making money now aren't going to make as much. So sad.

I have been predicting a pile of body bags for how long now? It's gonna happen -- and then the golden goose will be gone.

Anonymous said...

"Soon the town will be nothing but decaying student properties, $400,000 single family homes, high taxes, and everybody else will be told to GET OUT."

That's already the situation in Amherst.

Doesn't the town charge higher property tax for rental property? This is how it is in many other towns across the nation. Why is this profitable, and why can't it be made unprofitable?

Larry Kelley said...

No, the town does not assess rental property any higher than regular owner occupied housing (sometimes even lower because of their lousy curb appeal).

Tom McBride said...

Anonymous at 1:05 PM repeated my quote, .....that message needs to go directly town meeting, Stephanie O'Keefe, the rest of the select board, the SCHOOL BOARD, AND Musante, who is singlehandedly trying to fashion Amherst into a privileged Connecticut community.

Dr. Ed said...

Doesn't the town charge higher property tax for rental property?

In MA you really can't any more than Amherst already does (with the funky deduction for the first $100K) because the SJC ruled years back that all properties have to be evaluated at 100% of value.

Now what this means in reality is that the apartment complex tenant actually pays a higher rent than the chopped-up-house tenant, and that one can make more money buying a bunch of individual houses than one big complex.

Why is this profitable, and why can't it be made unprofitable?

It is profitable because regardless of what the slumlords charge, the UM students will borrow the money and pay it. No one is even thinking about their ever being able to repay the vast sums they are borrowing, nor what jobs they will be getting to enable them to do so, and the bubble will burst eventually.

But right now the slumlords can charge whatever they want for places as decrepit as they please and know, with absolutely certainty, that there will be a line of students out there willing to take anything that becomes vacant.

It is just like the Holyoke mills a century ago, when someone was injured/killed on the job, they just replaced him with someone else. Now all your attempts to punish the UM students are going to be no more effective than fining the employees would have been back then.

You gotta go after the OWNERS....

If, of course, you actually want to do something...

Dr. Ed said...

One other thing -- and no, I would not take the job (I am happy enough doing what I am right now) nor would I ever expect Amherst to ever have such a job.

But the town ought to hire someone like me to be a "tenant advocate" with everyone knowing that essentially means "UM Student advocate" because almost everyone else renting in that town has a Section 8 voucher and hence both the folks administering it and the public advocacy folk to advocate for them.

Even if this position was paid for by UMass, it would have to be a town employee, answerable to the *town* and with union protection.

This would make being a slumlord no longer profitable -- but that would involve offending folks who are making a lot of money with things the way they are now so it is easier to just bash students....

Anonymous said...

Sheesh Ed..get a job already. You have WAY too much time on your hands.

Anonymous said...

As a landlord in Amherst, I believe that many of the landlords are being unjustly crucified. You never know what kind of tenants you are going to get until they move in. Making the landlords accountable is absolutely necessary, however, that will not solve these problems. It is a social issue. No matter how nice the property is or if the property is entirely up to code, do you really think this will stop the college kids from partying? Have you ever tried to evict a tenant? The tenants hold all of the rights! It takes months for the court system to process and the landlords are usually on the losing end financially. As for the houses on Fearing St, Lincoln Ave, Phillips St. and that whole area...why do you think it turned into a mecca for college kids? First of all, Umass did such a good job pushing their problems off campus. Fraternity Row on N. Pleasant Street is a stones throw away from Southwest at Umass. These streets are caught right in the middle. The decent families who initially resided there had enough and moved away. Slowly, the only people who would purchase those homes were landlords. No family who did any research would ever move there. How can you lay all of the blame on the landlords? Furthermore, you can warn and threaten college aged tenants all day long and it will do no good. Unfortunately, most of them must learn the hard way, by getting arrested or sanctioned from Umass. They are at the age where they do not comprehend the consequences until it is too late. The problem in this town is that it is percieved as a party town. Until the town hires more police to crack down and to change that perception and attitude, the problems will persist. I welcome the police to take action against my tenants if they are out of line. I can only go so far to control them. They are adults and I am not their parents!

Larry Kelley said...

Seems pretty simply to put a clause in the lease saying two tickets and you're out.

Because on the 3rd violation the town could fine YOU $300.

And if landlords started evicting bad tenants, and the university started expelling them, they would probably go away.

Maybe back to their hometown to live in their parents basement.

Blind leading the Blind said...

The most frustrating thing about the situation is the denial on both sides of the issue. UM pretends some students aren't problems, and Amherst pretends it could exist to the degree it does without UMass.

In order to resolve the situation both of these matters need to be addressed. UMass needs to be embraced, and together with a closer relationship the small group of students can be better addressed in tandem.

On another note, the Animal House stereotyping of fraternities at UMass is frustrating to me. As a brother of one for 2 years I dedicated more hours to volunteering than I did when I earned the rank of Eagle with the BSA over 8 years. Not once was this mentioned in any sort of press. Often times we would wonder why we were helping the town, because outside of the official tasked to watch us we were never thanked. But this is Amherst, and forever will be my opinion of the town.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:52 PM: This is your job! If you aren't up to it, go into another line of work. Stop making excuses and stop passing the buck. How old are you?

Typical greedy capitalist blaming everyone else and making excuses when all you care about is your bottom line. If you destroy the quality of life or personal wealth of those around your little "investment", who cares, right? As long as you're getting richer, it's all good.

Those hardworking families around your slum rental saved and sacrificed throughout their entire life to purchase a home. The most expensive purchase we'll ever make is our home.

So what if they lose tens of thousands in property value due to your greed? So what if their kids are up all night due to your selfishness? So what if their kids have to see and hear things that are not meant for young ears - as long as you die wealthy? So what if you play a key role in completely destroying the character, history, and beauty of Amherst?

I have absolutely no empathy for anyone who chops up a nice home, rents it to teenagers, lets it fall into decay, then whines the woe is me saga. Buck up and take accountability or GET OUT!

Anonymous said...

Two things:

The warrants for tougher regs will be in front of town meeting. Call your town meeting members and encourage them to speak in favor of these. These are our neighborhoods. It is our biggest and only real investment, for which we've worked hard all our lives, despite what Mitt Romney believes about us. We can determine our fate if we speak up now!


"Best column to appear in the Amherst Bulletin since I resigned."

Knock, knock

Who's there?



Larry Kelley said...

Actually when I wrote that I had my tongue firmly in, umm, cheek.

But, now that I think about it ...

Anonymous said...

Taxes are high because the schools are the most expensive around -- with MCAS that are...average. Forty percent of many of the elementary school grades failed to pass the MCAS with some scores getting worse. Why isn't this being talked about anywhere including here?

Anonymous said...

Amherst needs to get tough on many rental issues-
My daughter lost part of her Boston apt security fee because her
landlord got a ticket for trash left at the curb (she was the first to move out in mid Aug- wasn't present for the incident)

Amherst definitely needs to focus on the trash issue!

Roach Patrolling down Chestnut Street. said...

My god Amherst really ~IS~ all about the diversity...

of failures.

Now now, everyone ssssssettle down...

I realize it's not all bad, right?

I mean, forget all those rowdy college kidz a sec... at least we can celebrate the crafty critterz running our schools... After all, they're doing so ~incredibly~ well

at your expense ($$!).

Organic champagne and mangoes(on you, of course)anyone?


Dr. Ed said...

My daughter lost part of her Boston apt security fee because her
landlord got a ticket for trash left at the curb

Do you think these kids get their security deposits back now????

The slumlords fund that maintenance they do out of the security deposits -- they keep all of that and then negotiate over how much MORE they are going to try to get from the already vacated tenants.

You would be amazed at how brazen they are at this.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the Housing Review Board?

Larry Kelley said...

I remember Harry Brooks was just dying to get subpoena power.

They seemed mostly interested in enacting rent control, and when the Supreme Court struck it down, that was pretty much that.