More live off TSU campus Clashes between area residents, students result

December 13, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Seeking more independence and cheaper rent, Towson State University students are checking out of dormitories and moving into off-campus rental housing.

Their departure -- combined with that of students who have moved back home to save money -- has helped to empty almost 730 beds in university dormitories and apartments this year. As a result, a one-time campus housing shortage has turned into a costly glut.

The popularity of off-campus housing has also led to lifestyle clashes between the residents of neighborhoods near TSU and the students who have moved in among them.

Christy Cox and her 5-year-old daughter moved out of their Burke Avenue rowhouse last June after nine months of late-night noise, trash, traffic and parties generated by five Towson State University students in the rowhouse next door.

"When you have 100 people [partying] on the other side of that wall, with music blaring, and 50 more outside, with two or three urinating on a tree . . . it was just untenable," she said.

University officials are working to make their on-campus dormitories and apartment complexes more attractive.

County officials, meanwhile, are drafting legislation that would tighten control over such rooming houses, most of which now operate illegally.

"I realize students have a different lifestyle," said County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, "and most people who live around a university accept a certain amount of that. What we're trying to deal with is the blatant violations."

University officials said about 3,390 students -- about 35 percent of TSU's full-time undergraduates -- now live on campus. But they fall well short of filling the school's 4,119 residential beds.

Empty beds abound

There are 434 empty beds in the dormitories and 295 vacancies in the Burkshire Apartments near York Road, a failed high-rise for the elderly that the state bought for student housing last year for $16.8 million.

At $2,560 a year each, the 434 empty dormitory beds alone represent $1.1 million annually in lost student housing fees.

"Towson normally has an overflow request for housing," said David Garafola, TSU's associate vice president for auxiliary services.

A campus poll suggested that many students who moved off campus -- mostly those whose parents live within 20 miles of Towson -- moved back home to save money during hard times. But many others have sought off-campus rooms or apartments. It's a phenomenon noted at the University of Maryland's College Park campus and others as well.

"It has been a trend for students to want to achieve more autonomy, and a living environment more adult in nature," said Mr. Garafola.

To combat the exodus, university planners are trying to make campus housing more attractive. Some traditional dorms with double rooms may be redesigned with single rooms for students 21 and older. Cable TV, data communications lines and computer lounges may also be added.

Housing fees have been reduced slightly this year. "And, we're going to lift the policy that required freshmen and sophomores not to bring a car," said Mr. Garafola. "We're finding we can accommodate most of that parking need now."

TSU's most successful bid to compete with off-campus housing has been the fully occupied Towson Run apartment building, erected in 1991 off Towsontowne Boulevard. It offers furnished, carpeted apartments with living and dining rooms, drapes, phones and all utilities.

"Students may perceive that they are saving dollars [by living off campus]," Mr. Garafola said. But by the time they furnish the places and pay the utilities, the advantages fade.

Significantly, the smaller, unfurnished Burkshire apartments, which come without Towson Run's other amenities, remain three-fourths empty.

Mr. Garafola said it may be possible for students to save money by banding together to rent an off-campus apartment, "but that may also be the source of some problems in the community."

Although university housing officials say they advise students against taking off-campus housing that violates county zoning laws, that hasn't ended the practice.

Absentee landlords -- some of them parents of students -- continue to buy relatively inexpensive houses in the area and rent them to students for $650 to $1,000 a month.

To meet the rent and utility bills, students take in roommates, with predictable effects on trash, parking and noise.

'Get-rich-quick scheme'

"It's a get-rich-quick scheme," said Leroy Haile, a Towson real estate manager and broker concerned about the effects such arrangements have on residential neighborhoods.

"What we've found is that the value of the real estate suffers," he said. "The people that build a community aren't going to buy next to what we commonly call an 'Animal House.' "

When talk fails to resolve the problems, residents seek legal remedies, usually by accusing the owner of operating an illegal rooming house.

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