No More than Two

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As I am continuously finding out, the wonderful thing about studying urban planning is to see the issues we study about simultaneously playing around in our community. We have been studying effect of zoning ordinances in our Housing and Community class and were handed a live case study to analyze. The fact that I could be affected by it (I almost was) is an added incentive to devote careful attention to the issue at hand. Bryan (College Station’s twin city) City Council is debating a change on its renter policies. The council is currently examining a proposal that would reduce the number of unrelated resident that can share a home from four to two. The proponents of the move cite cases of loud parties, increased traffic and trash that result from college students sharing rented houses. Now, just to give a little background, College Station is a student community; 45,000 students among the city’s 67,000-odd residents. Bryan, being almost next door also houses many students. If this proposal passes, students could face great inconveniences as they would have to rethink their housing options.

Normally, in order to reduce expenses, several students shack up in a house or an apartment; especially so if they happen to be Desi. Desis are known to live like sardines – 4 students in a two-bedroom house doesn’t raise any eyebrows (I have even seen and stayed more than 4 in an apartment). Americans prefer their own space and generally do not share a bedroom, which is often akin to your own personal space. After living in a typical Desi apartment for the past five years, I have begun to understand the conveniences of your own bedroom albeit at a higher cost.

Although the proposal under question is expected to impact only duplexes and single-family homes (apartments and fourplexes are exempted), the number of units that would be affected is still high at almost 8000 units. The student body, which by the way has a strong voice in these parts, is vehemently opposed to this move although the landlords have good reason to complain. Personally, I have been (rather my apartment) cited for causing loud noises and I can understand the inconvenience that this can cause. But on the other hand, loud noises and increased traffic during the weekend is expected in a student community. The proposal also would create a false illusion of housing shortages since a four-bedroom house cannot be leased to more than two unrelated people and two bedrooms would permanently remain vacant. This would skew the market and prices would rise, making it extremely unaffordable for students to rent housing in Bryan. Of course, College Station would benefit by providing more housing without the encumbrances of such a zoning ordinance.

Also, as one councilman who opposes the proposal says, “it is not fair to the kids that are good and maintain their yards and don’t have loud parties”. The City Council is thus generalizing student behavior and attempting to create a zoning ordinance that would affect even those that have generally been well-behaved. I propose that the decision should be left to individual landlords who if need be, can incorporate certain restrictions in their leases. For e.g. two police citations and they would have to evict. The hand of the law is pretty strong here and fines are stiff too. After our citation of almost $370 per resident, parties have literally come to a standstill and our house wears a deserted look even on weekends. Generalizing a regulation for all almost never works and people tend to find legal loopholes; instead financial disincentives in terms of fines and citations work better.

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