Have you ever scrolled through Craigslist looking for a place, and seen listing after listing saying NO STUDENTS? Kristi Wright and Megan Mercier have, and they want to do something about it.
Wright spearheaded a campaign to add students as a protected class under Ashland’s fair housing ordinance. This would legally prevent realtors from discriminating against students, just for being students.
The campaign also hopes to create new renter orientation classes for students who have little to no rental history; this would help students without rental history become more appealing to landlords.
Currently some landlords do not accept students for certain rentals in Ashland. SOU senior Eva Espinosa told us,“We put down our applications, and then the application fee for a house with pacific properties. We were denied for the property and someone else got it, afterward we were told that we weren’t eligible because we were students.”
Adding students as a protected class is a hot issue. SOU professor and landlord Janay Haas commented “I think it’s an important issue, I think people who are capable of being responsible as tenants should be given the opportunity to be responsible. In this country I think we should all have the opportunity to live indoors. ”
When asked if he would support adding students as a protected class if it didn’t require landlords to lower screening requirements, Southern Oregon Rental Owner Association (SOROA) president Mark Nichols said, “…no I don’t see any problems, it just creates, I think that people are going to think that it solves things when it doesn’t really. We already have enough to deny people that don’t meet our criteria.” Later on when sitting in the halfway renovated home of his passed away father, discussing if adding students as a protected class would cause frivolous lawsuits, Nichols commented “I think it will give them a false sense that they’re being protected, and when somebody requires three years of rental history they’re going to say, ‘oh I’m a student you can’t do that,’ and its not going to be suitable, they’re not going to win.”
But both Haas and Nichols thought that new renter orientation classes would benefit students new to renting. Nichols commented “. . .its a real qualification to landlords they’ll take someone who’s been through one of those classes over someone who hasn’t.”
Last year SOU students presented the fair housing issue to the city council. The council directed the item to the housing and human services commission for further discussion. The housing and human service commission, amongst other things, makes recommendations to the city council on housing policies.
After a few housing and human service commission meetings Wright reached a hurdle, “In summer and fall the student government changes, and I tried to get the support of the new student government, to continue the fair housing campaign, but they declined to support it, and that was very disappointing. That made it difficult for me to continue because of course their support was so valuable,” Wright said.
On top of fair housing losing priority in the student government, in November Andrew Enslinn, the student liaison to the housing and human service commission, announced that he would resign.
These two back to back blows hit the campaign hard and by January it looked like the fair housing campaign was done for.
But that all changed in the last few weeks.
Megan Mercier stepped up as the next expected student liaison for the housing and human service commission. Wright, who hopes to graduate this year, promised to assist Mercier in the transition of the campaign.
The future of the fair housing campaign remains largely unknown. There is no definite time line on when the housing and human service commission will make a recommendation to the city council.
The housing and human service commission meets the fourth Thursday of every month from 4:30-6:30. The commission meetings are held at 51 Winburn Way in the Siskiyou room.