Strife in the Heights
A call for immediate action in Buffalo’s – and UB’s – University Heights
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The University Heights district is the definition of deplorable.
It has been an ongoing talking point over the course of several years – on Monday, we reported about a student who was left homeless after his Merrimac home became infested by bed bugs, but this is not the first instance or the last. Hardened raw sewage is caked around open basement pipes. Faulty electrical wiring and natural gas problems have started house fires.
The violations go on and on.
The housing conditions aren’t the only problems occurring inside the walls of the Heights homes. September brought two separate drug busts, including a major drug ring on West Northrup Place.
It isn’t any better outside the homes. Two attacks have occurred recently on Winspear Avenue, leading to medical treatment for one victim and reconstructive facial surgery for another.
However, as each new story comes out, we consistently see the blame passed from one person to the next. The issues are written off as minor or swept under the rug completely. But with each new story, the truth comes out – stories of unsafe streets and safety sacrificed for the sake of a few extra bucks.
Despite jurisdiction lines, “University” is in the name. UB’s name is part of that neighborhood, and it’s being marketed by UB as affordable housing near campus, yet the university continues to shy away from it further and further with every call and crime report. It wants to stay affiliated with the area to get students in the doors but turns the other cheek when one of the doors unhinges.
Is anybody even listening anymore? Whether UB likes it or not, it owes some responsibility to the people who live in this neighborhood. There needs to be change.
Each week, Dan Ryan, director of off-campus student relations at UB, and City of Buffalo Inspection Services have been going door to door during housing blitzes in the Heights – writing up landlords and surveying these awful conditions. The Blitzes began in 2011 when our then-Editor in Chief Andrew Wiktor published “Reaching New Heights,” an article outlining the conditions and violations of the district. Now weekend after weekend, more dirty secrets are uncovered.
Violations are being written left and right with horrible landlords to blame – many of whom don’t even live in Buffalo and certainly not in the Heights. With no concern for the quality of living and just looking to pocket their cash, they’re well aware they can take advantage of the students who feel their only option lies in the Heights. After all, they’ve been told constantly that it’s a part of the city that’s affordable, close to campus and within distance of a bustling nightlife. It’s convenient, and we students thrive on convenience.
If it’s many of the landlords’ fault and the district is out of UPD jurisdiction, what does the school have to do with the situation? Answer: UB constantly promoted University Heights as affordable off-campus living, quickly playing off students’ naivety and desperation. It doesn’t matter if there are other neighborhoods in the city where “affordable housing” isn’t an oxymoron (e.g. Allentown); the Heights are right within walking distance of South Campus.
But at night, you might want to run. Or take one of the many UB buses that carts students between campuses. The school wishes students the best of luck as soon as they step onto the pavement.
These students aren’t asking for marble sinks and high ceilings; they’re just looking to lie in bed without getting chewed apart by bugs or to be able to trust leaving their homes without something sparking a fire. They want to be able to walk down Winspear without fear of ending up in the hospital or in the morgue.
This is not an impossible cause. Henry Taylor, professor of the Center of Urban Studies at UB, helped The Ohio State University work with the city of Columbus and private developers to transform and renovate unacceptable neighborhoods around the campus into livable areas. Not only that – Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law partnered with the Office of Student Affairs to provide free advice and legal representation for students having tenant-landlord issues.
God knows UB wants to be comparable to universities like Ohio State. But it has to care more about making its students safe than the label of being the private school of former President John B. Simpson’s dreams. We have built up enough resources and influence to do something about it, and we’ve proved we have the money with every dollar that goes downtown or into UB2020. All the academic and athletic prowess in the world will not and cannot cover up homeless or bloodied students.
If there was a neighborhood in Amherst near North Campus where this was happening, every bell at UB would be going off. Lucky for North Campus, though, Amherst Police are incredibly efficient, and UB Police effectively patrols the area.