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NPR Coverage of Exclusionary Zoning

RI NPR did a reasonably decent job covering the student housing issue before City Council.

A few quibbles, though:

The piece describes a disagreement between "students" and "residents". But students are residents. They're a type of resident.


The article interviews a number of people concerned with the proposed zoning, some for and some against. If you listen to what the people who are for the exclusionary zoning say, try bracketing the word [student] in your head and replacing it with your favorite ethnic, religious, or gender descriptor. Or even with another occupation. It really lays bare the silliness of the proposal.

Here are a few of my favorite bracketed gems. I hate to go for the pun here, but this would make a great drinking game (just leave the red Solo cups at home, please):

There, landlords have aggressively [aggressively!] bought up two and three-family homes, and rented them to [              ].

“There were [         ] that were throwing beer cans at the cars off of a third floor balcony,” said Kinney. “And it smashed right in front of my car, and had beer all over my car and I stopped and yelled at the [       ], and they laughed.”
It may be funny to [             ], but Kinney’s not laughing. Because those [        ] are now moving into single family homes on her block. She says residents live in fear each time a “for sale” sign pops up in the area. Just down the street a property about to hit the market.

“Has it been looked at by the different landlords? Oh yes it has, and I’m like ‘oh my lord they could put 15 [          ] in that home, and there we go, it’s a [          ],” said Kinney.

That’s why she and other residents, championed by Ryan are pushing for a new zoning ordinance that would limit the number of [             ] renting a single family rental house to just three. If passed, the ordinance wouldn’t affect current leases, like the one a group of women from Johnson and Wales University signed for Victorian cottage across the street from Kinney. 
“We met one of them, very nice, welcome to the neighborhood, this is a neighborhood. We hope you respect us,” said Kinney.

Most [              ] may be respectful. But residents say it just takes a few to cause problems, and the number of [               ] is growing.

It hasn’t always been this way. Elmhurst has long been a college neighborhood, but in the past it was mainly populated by professors and other school employees. Since the recession, the relatively affordability of the area has made it an attractive spot for investors, who see an opportunity to capitalize on the need for [                ] housing.

The fact that you can blank out students and put in another group is because students are just the tip of the iceberg on exclusionary zoning.  It might seem like melodrama to even draw the comparison, at first (though the students most affected will, of course, be the ones who belong to those ethno-racial and class groups that all exclusionary zoning is most meant to affect). But the fact is that zones 1 and 1A are themselves designed to exclude many more people than students. They were set up to be exclusive areas free of working class people. Only the collapse of housing prices, as described in the NPR report, has led the neighborhood to a point where middle class people and students can replace the elite (professors, etc.) that once lived in the neighborhood.


The other thing I noticed that was curious about this piece was that one (rather asinine) student explained exactly what would stop the disruptions, yet Councilwoman Ryan hasn't proposed any of what would clearly work.
James, a junior who asked that his last name not be used, says he thinks PC is definitely a party school. He says police do try to tamp down on partying. Students can get slapped with a $500-fine, but that’s only after the police get two calls of complaint. 
“So we get a free one right now. We may as well keep going until the free one,” said James. 
James and others have found a way around the fine too. He says they’ll charge entrance fees for a party. If they can attract enough people James and his roommates will make enough money pay off the fine, and then some. 
“So we’re hoping between 100-150 kids, you know 750, 200 bucks for beer,” said James. “We’ll make 550, you know, 50 bucks each, that’s not bad for partying.”
What a jerk! But wouldn't the simple solution to this problem be to increase the fines for disruptions? The city could flexibly raise the price of being noisy past 11 PM until the number of violations balances with the level of punishment, and comes to an acceptable level.

The college could actually set up community relations trainings for every new student, laying out clear rules about when music is allowed to be above x, y, or z decibel level. Fines for littering could be quite steep as well.

Truthfully, there shouldn't be a problem with students partying until 2 AM, so long as they calm it down to a certain loudness that can't be heard, and don't mess up the neighborhood. Some students are doing that. This jerk student explained exactly what incentive systems would change his behavior. Targeting disrespectful students with fines would be a more ethical and effective way of approaching this issue.



  1. The charging people to come to your party scenario the student described is in itself illegal and would come with a whole raft of other penalties on top of the noise penalty if police were enforcing it. Punishments from the school can often be more impactful than fines from the City, how many parties would end if removal from a sports team were the punishment?

  2. I'll defer to you on that. I wouldn't be surprised if charging to enter a party was illegal (especially one that was alcohol related). I have mixed feelings as to whether I think it *should* be illegal. I knew people who group-owned large houses in Philadelphia who would throw "fix the roof" parties and collect money towards down payments on their old homes (I think the fee was usually construed as a donation, though, which is tricky, but different than these students). I personally feel like the old days of people being able to convert a bottom floor of their house into a corner store without red tape, or to have a home office, etc., should return, and I imagine that the illegal part of a pay-as-you-go party is that someone is using a space that's deemed residential in a commercial way. But it definitely shouldn't be legal to raise money specifically to get past having to pay fines for the anti-social behavior your party induces. I would support an ordinance that raised fines on people significantly when there was evidence that people had been collecting money at the party and that they'd ignored noise ordinances, littered, harassed people, etc.

    And I agree: Providence College should get involved, on a lot of levels. I wrote an email to the college president, as a matter of fact, asking that he set up necessary controls on students as well as taking a public stance against exclusionary zoning (I think it's pretty clearly un-Catholic, especially in light of Laudato Si, to create laws that worsen climate change and make housing less affordable). But we'll see what the university does. I know from past reporting by other people that the university provosts have censored groups bringing speakers to the campus they don't like. If they can do that kind of heavy-handed, anti-free thought stuff, then you would suppose they could get their act together around this.

  3. "They are a type of resident..." Yes, students are temporary, no- to low-investment, very immature residents. Middle class homeowners, by contrast, stay, invest, work and run businesses, pay taxes and make many other contributions to the common wealth. Their idea of a city may conflict with your ideal of density, but these are citizens with standing, expressing a valid grievance against "residents" who persistently disrupt and degrade their neighborhood.

    Zoning may be a horrible solution to the problem, but equating complaints about students to racism and homophobia is unworthy and glib.

    PC students, like students everywhere, enjoy the reflected immunity from civic obligation enjoyed by their colleges and universities. Only when the universities feel pain (some cold day in hell, perhaps), with the students be restrained. Until then, I feel the pain of residents stuck in the "Teens Gone Wild" zone.