Ordinance Barring Temple Students From Specific Areas Still Drawing Ire From Lawyers, Landlords

By Randy Lobasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Feb. 22, 2012

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Home wreckers?: The city says a housing ordinance protects families living near Temple from the harms of “unsupervised students living with absentee landlords.”

When is discrimination, well, not? According to local lawyer Chris Stouffer, when it’s OK’d by the city. Since 2008, Stouffer’s been fighting a city law he says does just that.

The law in question is the 2004 “Yorktown Special District Controls” ordinance, written specifically for the North Central section of the city—Cecil B. Moore to the north, Oxford to the south, 11th to the east and 13th to the west. The law holds, after years of tensions between students and neighbors, that Temple kids simply aren’t allowed to live in certain areas of North Central (see PDF below for specific areas). Stouffer, 63, says that’s unconstitutional, discriminatory and invalid. And he’s thought so since a group of landlords who own properties in the area hired him to fight their case. When they ran out of money to pay him, he continued fighting on his own. In late December, Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox ruled the ordinance constitutional, saying, “It is clearly intended to protect the vitality and viability of the Yorktown neighborhood as a unique inner-city haven for single families from the harms of unsupervised students living with absentee landlords.” Stouffer insists that despite the ruling, the fight’s not over.

“[The city] butchered the law,” he says. “Most lawyers wouldn’t say that, but I’m at a point in my career where I don’t care anymore.” The upheld law, he says, is a dangerous violation of Section 1, Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution, which bars the deprivation of “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” And assuming he’s right, all branches of city government have legalized class discrimination under our noses.

And that’s fucked up.

“I didn’t get my day in court ... [I] just want a judge to apply the law,” Stouffer says.

The ordinance in question was written in 2004 by then-Councilman Darrell Clarke and signed by then-Mayor John Street. It claims student housing is slowly turning North Central into a characterless cluster of cars and boardinghouses with concrete front lawns. It specifically forbids “apartment houses,” “tenement houses,” “multiple-family dwellings,” “student housing not owner-occupied” and “fraternity/sorority houses” from certain spots within the area. In other words: No students allowed.

Clarke’s ordinance has a long history of mostly unreported controversy, beginning when it was first up for debate. On Dec. 6, 2004, the City Council Rules Committee heard complaints regarding the potential law and the plan to ban specific types of living arrangements from the area. At this same hearing, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission indicated it had not previously been aware of Clark’s proposal.

Eight days later, the Planning Commission held a public meeting on the plan, and voted against recommendation. However, “City Council is under no obligation to follow our rule on any bill,” says Bill Kramer, division director for the Philadelphia Planning Commission.

Two days after the Commission recommended against the bill, on Dec. 16, Council voted in favor of it. It was believed that the two days did not give City Council enough time to read or consider the recommendation. Then Mayor John Street, who PW has confirmed lives in the neighborhood, signed it into law.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Former Philly Resident said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 09:54AM

“I guess age discrimination is okay in the once-great City of Philadelphia. Wouldn't want young adults moving into a dead North Philly neighborhood and moving into any of the abandoned housing stock, after all.

Much better to have North Philly's typical array of crumbling, bombed-out shells with boarded up doors and windows than "a characterless cluster of cars and boardinghouses with concrete front lawns" with actual people living in them, right?”

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2. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:28AM

“What I a great idea! Let's ban a diverse group of students from all over PA from an area full of crumbling buildings peppered with drug dealers and abandoned lots. If "North Central" is afraid of their neighborhood falling apart and becoming worse off, they should be welcoming students, because the people who are own buildings there now simply abandon them so they become occupied by squatters, dealers, and addicts. I'm sorry, but urban blight in N. Philly is not caused by students, it's caused by everyone else.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:15AM

“I guess the residents of this area of North Philly would rather deal with violent crime and drug dealers. As stated above, the students are not responsible for the way the neighborhood looks.

But if that's the way the residents want it then let them live in a crime infested area and in their own squalor.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:42AM

“I wrote post 3. In response to 4. I agree, but I don't live too far from the area that they're talking about in the article. It seems to be a good idea to let them live in their squalor, but my neighborhood has to deal with all of these people coming down and causing problems every day. It's not too hard for criminals to walk 10 blocks south and rob cars and vandalize my neighborhood. I'd rather see these idiotic policies fixed so that the area around Temple can become nicer and safer with students leading the charge. Blight and crime in N. Philly won't be contained in N. Philly until we all work together to improve these areas or build a fence down Girard Ave. which clearly won't happen.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:34PM

“Your understanding of unconstitutionality needs to be a little more refined before you throw around the term, sir.

Also, were you too lazy to interview anyone but landlords and their lawyer so as to better understand the legal argument in support of the bill?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:54PM

“Before you comment on this law you need to know something about Yorktown. It is not abandoned, squalid, or full of vacancies. It is a vibrant, family filled community that deserves the same protection from student flop houses that Lower Merion, Villanova and other White communities insist on.”

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7. pollo diablo said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 09:39AM

“living next to college housing is a nightmare. however, i find it odiously offensive that a government agency can get away with being able to go to home under the false pretense of checking smoke detectors, look through a door, make a determination as to whats going on in said house, report back to a higher authority, and ultimately remove occupants from a dwelling. holy crap. i thought i read about something called abuse of powers and unresonable searches somewhere before. if you find anything constitutional about how philadelphia is handling this, from top to bottom, you should be hung from some gallows in front of the whole town. his name is john street, not king john street for fucks sake. the shit smeared banner of democracy flies proudly over north philly i guess. give me liberty or give me death...”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 08:34PM

“It's the 14th amendment to the constitution, not article 1 section 14.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:26PM

“^^^Good lord, I didn't even notice that error. Even more indefensible.”

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10. Temple student said... on Mar 6, 2012 at 10:44AM

“Let's face it: the long-time residents simply don't want Temple students living around them. This policy seems "discriminatory" on a superficial level, considering I've seen flyers up in this neighborhood that are explicitly anti-student housing. If anything, the ones being discriminated here are the students, but even that's an outlandish claim; there're too many students pouring into north Philly as it is (since the school lets in anyone and everyone). Only rarely do students and the community get along, so I think it's just best to put a limit on the growing animosity between them.”

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