UMass steps up efforts to address off-campus housing conflicts
Many Amherst residents resent the way some students renters have littered their neighborhoods and disrupted their peace and quiet with late-night partying. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — In recent years, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has stepped up efforts to work with Amherst on town-gown issues pertaining to students living off campus.
Recently, tension between off-campus students and year-round residents has boiled over as the number of owner-occupied homes being converted into rental housing — mostly for students — has accelerated. Neighbors complain about the partying, noise, parking, trash and rude behavior that can come with sharing a street with homes full of people ages 21 and under.
Some of the approaches UMass has implemented to address the issue have been traditional: In the fall, the university opened an on-campus center for off-campus students. Others have been creative: setting up a food truck and giving away prizes to redirect late-night student pedestrian traffic away from neighborhoods and back onto campus.
The following is a list of ways UMass is attempting to address problems that arise when students live off campus.
• LIFE OFF CAMPUS: This year UMass developed an online program to educate students about how to successfully integrate with the community and live off-campus on their own. It’s called, Moving Off Campus Owl Training. Students learn how to estimate off campus costs of living, find housing and housemates and understand leases and subleases.
Students also learn about tenant rights and responsibilities, the university’s and the community’s expectations of them and how to be good neighbors in addition to practical information such as setting up utilities and meeting neighbors. UMass is asking local landlords make passage of this training a requirement for student tenants.
• COMMUNITY PROJECTS: The university’s Positive Presence Initiative provides students a chance to participate in local community service projects. The goal is to connect students to the Amherst community. Past service projects include blanket-making for patrons of Craig’s Door, food drives for the Amherst Survival Center and game nights with Big Brothers Big Sisters. On Sunday students planted trees in Sweetser Park.
• KNOW THY TENANT: The university has partnered with landlords to create a waiver releasing student tenant applicants’ academic and behavioral records from the university. As students have scant credit, housing and work histories, some landlords see this information as an invaluable way to judge wether a student can pay for an maintain a household. Some landlords require students sign this waiver as part of their application.
• OUTSIDE CONSULTANT: UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wants to partner with the town of Amherst and hire a consultant to find ways for the university to strengthen the local economy and improve neighborhoods near the university. UMass will dedicate $60,000 to hire the consultant if Amherst pays $30,000. Voters will decide wether to spend money on a consultant at the May 6 Town Meeting.
• DISCIPLINING STUDENTS: The university punishes students for off-campus misbehavior. In the latest report on student discipline, that runs from Sept. 1 through March 27, more than eight in 10 students who violated the code of conduct for their behavior off campus are being punished by UMass, according to a report released by UMass officials. The report says that 519 students were involved in 348 incidents off campus for which they are being disciplined. Of the students, 10 were suspended with another 53 students being placed on deferred suspension.
• GATHERING PLACE: Established this school year, the Off Campus Student Center is a place for students to gather and connect with university activities, resources and programs they likely would not be exposed to unless they lived on campus. Some of the sessions the center runs include a free coffee/tea break every Monday morning, “Cooking 101,” “Food Shopping 101” and karaoke contests. UMass’ Off Campus Student Services department, which runs the center, also connects landlords and students. In addition to providing guidance and resources for students seeking housing, the department offers housing fairs and property listings.
• HELP FROM PEERS: For the first time this fall, UMass hired six off campus student life coordinators: students who live off-campus and are trained in how to assist fellow commuters. The students serve as a resource to build community among off-campus students and their neighbors in the greater Amherst area.
• PUBLIC SAFETY SUPPORT: UMass officials have agreed to pay for two additional town ambulances, provide more joint police patrols and offer a new mobile police team to prevent large-scale disturbances off campus this spring at a cost of at least $52,000.
• NEW ROUTES: Year-round residents living near the university have complained about students walking through their neighborhoods — often boisterously — late at night after an evening of partying.
So, under what is being called the “walk this way” plan, students and volunteers are being positioned at the intersections of Fearing Street and Nutting Avenue and Nutting Avenue and Phillips Street between 10:30 p.m. and 2 a.m. on three nights this month.
They’re urging walkers to bypass family-occupied neighborhoods and head north on Nutting Avenue, where they will pass the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and end up in the parking lot behind the Robsham Memorial Visitors Center. There the UMass Baby Berk food truck will be selling snacks.