Pa. lawmaker: Rules restricting college student housing ‘discriminatory’

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – There are colleges and universities from one of the end of the Midstate to the other, in borough’s and ‘burgs across the region.

From Gettysburg College in the south to Lebanon Valley College in the north, and Dickinson College, Franklin and Marshall, Millersville and Shippensburg in the middle, college students have lots of options in the region.

But they don’t have enough housing options, some say, because of Pennsylvania law that allows host municipalities to restrict how many students are in a house, or how close student houses are to one another.

House Bill 809 would preempt, or halt, those ordinances.

Representative Sue Helm (R-Dauphin/Lebanon) is the bill’s sponsor. She also owns her own real estate company.

“Students should not be discriminated against simply because they are students,” Helm said at a Local Government Committee hearing. “Many of them are veterans or married and are good neighbors that do not cause problems.”

But many do cause problems, according to State College borough manager Tom Fountaine, who testified that Penn State students aren’t always good neighbors.

Fountaine opposes 809 and like’s State College’s restrictions for off-campus housing. He rattled off a litany of recent misdeeds by students living in residential neighborhoods.

“A pre-teen girl was confronted by a naked student walking down the hall because he was intoxicated and believed he was in his own home, vandalism to property, loud noises throughout the night and into early morning hours, students vomiting or defecating on sidewalks,” he said.

Landlords, who want the freedom to put more kids in their houses, say they support parking or noise ordinances in college towns, but not laws that single out students.

“There are problems, you deal with the bad actors,” said Vince Dunsworth a landlord from Edinboro. “You don’t make a blanket statement saying students are all bad. If you did that with an ethnic or religious minority it would be discrimination.”

“Tenants should not be treated as a second-class citizen for they are a vital part of our economic structure,” added Midstate landlord Rita Dallago, executive director of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association.

But Millersville Mayor Richard Moriarity, who is both a landlord and Millersville University graduate, opposes 809 and supports local control. He says resident safety and neighborhood preservation are job one in a college town, and that means restricting where students are living and how many of them are in residential homes.

“You are saying this bill knows best over the community leaders who for the past, in essence, 200 years have established legislation that has proven and stood the test of time,” Moriarity said.

Mayors also worry that areas with dense student housing chase away families and lower property values.

House Bill 809 is currently in committee.

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