Students Need Not Apply: ASSOU Launches Fair Housing Campaign

Ryan J Degan, Staff Writer

home storyHave you ever been denied the opportunity to apply for housing based off of your status as a student? Well the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University has launched the Fair Housing Campaign to let you know that you are not alone.

The Fair Housing Campaign is an ongoing project by ASSOU to confront student housing discrimination, specifically targeting property management companies, landlords, and private rental owners from prohibiting students from applying to certain properties. Ashland City Council will hold an open study session on Mar. 14 5:30-7:00 at the Community Development Building near the entrance of Lithia Park, where, time permitting, ASSOU will plead their case and anyone interested can state their opinion on student housing discrimination.

“We kept hearing more and more stories about students who are having struggles finding housing. Especially because enrollment rates are going up and housing doesn’t have enough units for everyone on campus,” said ASSOU Public Relations Officer and Campaign Manager Megan Mercier.

The campaign is striving to update language in the Ashland Fair Housing Ordinance that will protect students from unfair application process, unreasonable increases in rent, and units unavailable to students. ASSOU is not seeking to name students as a protected group, but instead include language that will prohibit student discrimination. A key part of the campaign, the proposed update on language will protect multiple classes of people not mentioned in state or local law including age, and source of income. A 2012 update to the ordinance included source of income but does not include student loans or debt. Mercier hopes these changes will be “a good way to protect students.”

ASSOU has been preparing their case by reaching out to local rental owners and asking students to take an anonymous survey about their housing experiences. The survey has collected numerous student experiences usually dealing with the horrors of trying to find housing and being denied based off of their student status. A common tale involves being discouraged from rentals because they places students can afford, do not rent to students.

“We are not in favor of a protected class (for students).” said President of the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association Mark Nichols, “We think that it would just in the end cost more money to comply with and just frustrate students because they won’t be getting what they think they are getting.” One aspect rental owners fear from this potential changes is an increase in frivolous lawsuits. The concern is that students will believe rental owners must provide them with housing whether they meet specific housing criteria or not ,explained Nichols. Potentially leading to unjustified legal issues for housing companies, according to Nichols.  

Even if students are declared as a protected class legally the following criteria would still be required for application at some properties:

-Unable to verify information of application

-Income verification

-Need Rental history of 3 years

-Income of 2.5 – 3 times rent

-Criminal check

“We believe that property companies have the right to discern who will make a good tenant and who would not. The problem with this policy is that they are putting a blanket over students as a whole, which disenfranchises students who have families, years of rental experience or even home ownership experience who simply want to live closer to the university,” responded Mercier, “…that doesn’t make it rights to exclude 6000 students as a whole.”

Another concern of Nichols is the lack of vacancy in Southern Oregon. Statistics by the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association, who represent over 17,000 rental units in the Rogue Valley, claim that total vacancy in Feb. was at 1.87%. Implying that rental opportunities are low for everyone.

“I’m 100% in support (of the changes),” said Ashland City Council Member Carol Voisin “Still, there are going to be people who oppose these changes, so I hope they (ASSOU) do their homework and are ready.”

Readers may notice that ASSOU’s previous plan to present their case to a city council meeting on Mar. 15, have been postponed. Initial hopes of having a city vote on the proposed changes to the Fair Housing ordinance on the same day have been denied. ASSOU claims that City Council had told them that their case would be heard on the 15th, but according to Ashland Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid the meeting on the 15th is covering other city issues and ASSOU’s meeting was never set in stone. “It’s unfortunate but it gives us more time to prepare if anything,” said Mercier. Instead City Council will hold a study session on Mar. 14, where students will be able to state their case and City Council will decided whether to proceed with the issue or not.

Students interested in the Campaign may attend the session on the 14th or fill out ASSOU’s anonymous housing discrimination survey here.

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