The Heights of Fear
UB takes hands-off attitude in South Campus neighborhood, students suffer consequences
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 00:02
Architecture student Chen Lin is so scared living in the University Heights she doesn’t go out past dark.
She came to UB this year from China and since her arrival, she has heard about students in her South Campus neighborhood being robbed, shot, burglarized and assaulted.
“I feel scared,” Lin said. “I never walk on the streets when the sky is dark. In the evening, I’m afraid to go on the street.”
Lin didn’t come to Buffalo by accident.
For years, UB has actively recruited international students to campus and now those students make up 15 percent of the student body and bring close to $108 million to Western New York. UB ranks among the top 20 U.S. campuses for recruiting international students and is the top international recruiter among public schools.
President Satish Tripathi, who was born in India and is the first international-born president in UB’s history, has made it a goal to increase the number of international students on campus.
Yet, the university does minimal work to ensure the safety of these students – or any others who choose to live in the cheap houses around South Campus – once they arrive.
“We’re not in the protection business,” said Dennis Black, vice president for University Life and Services.
Unlike other campuses, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State and nearby Canisius College – where administrators have worked with local police, state legislatures or landlords to protect students living on the outskirts of the university – UB has taken a hands-off attitude in the neighborhood around South Campus known as the University Heights.
Tripathi declined to be interviewed for this article. He referred The Spectrum to Black and other administrators, who insist the university is not responsible for students’ safety and living conditions off campus.
Fred Brace, who has lived in the Heights for over 25 years and serves as the University District Housing Court liaison, thinks so – particularly if the houses are blocks from campus. He thinks UB is irresponsible and negligent for not improving living conditions and safety in the Heights.
“UB has to find a way to get UPD [University Police] patrolling those areas where they know students live,” Brace said. “I don’t care how they do it; they have to do it … I mean, UB is allowing their students to rent properties without proper safety guidelines in them and turning their back on their need for safe places to live.”
Eighty-two percent of 760 students polled by The Spectrum feel UB should do more to improve living conditions for students in the Heights. Currently, the university forewarns its students by providing online tips for renting off campus. At international student orientation, UB advises students to be careful before renting homes, though many have already signed their leases.
Many, if not most, of the 5,500-plus international students who come to UB live in the Heights, said John Wood, senior associate vice provost for international education.
That’s because many students – particularly international students – rent houses from abroad before they come to Buffalo. They see them listed by the Sub-Board, Inc. (SBI) Off-Campus Housing Office, which does not investigate, inspect or endorse the condition of the listed houses and some students assume they are university-approved housing options.
From a distance, University Heights looks great. Rent is cheaper than in most parts of the city and students can walk to class, to the bus stop and to bars, restaurants and grocery stores along Main Street.
What the ads don’t tell the students or their parents – who, in the case of international students, pay over $9,000 for tuition on top of rent and expenses – is that for the past 30 years, the area has become synonymous with crime and absentee landlordism.
The crimes occurring in the Heights are not minor; students are being held up at gunpoint in their homes, burglarized by armed suspects, beaten and traumatized.
Housing inspectors have issued over 750 violations to landlords in the Heights in the past two years. Some houses have had over 20 alone. The violations range from disgusting to deadly and include: faulty wiring that can lead to fire, inactive or nonexistent smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, bed bugs, collapsing ceilings, leaking pipes, unstable railings, improper insulation and inadequate plumbing and waste removal.
The list goes on.
How much crime is there and what is UB doing to combat it?
On UB’s website – a site many prospective students read – it states in the “South Campus Neighborhood” section: “Some of the crime in Heights neighborhood (sic) is related to the abuse of alcohol among young people who reside in or visit it. Some of this behavior leads to so-called nuisance crimes, such as vandalism. More serious incidents include acts of violence, though they are rare.”
In fact, violent crimes happen quite often in the Heights – twice as often as in the neighborhood around North Campus. Last year, police logged over 500 major crimes, which include homicides, assaults, rapes, larcenies, robberies, burglaries and vehicle thefts in the Heights. And since 2007, rape in the Heights has increased by 50 percent, assaults by 16.6 percent, robberies by 9 percent and larcenies by 7 percent, according to Buffalo Police crime statistics.
By contrast, American Live Wire ranked Amherst, the city surrounding North Campus, the third-safest city in the United States in 2013.
Although University Police protects student safety on South Campus, the minute students set foot off Main Street and into the Heights – even by one block – campus police no longer have jurisdiction, according to UPD Lieutenant Mark Gates. Instead, it becomes the job of the Buffalo Police.