There is hope for The Heights

Housing Blitz continues, students come together to improve South Campus welfare

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The Spectrum

Last weekend, the streets of University Heights were covered in red cups. Beer bottles and their respective dirt-incrusted boxes - accented with unfinished McDonald's French fries and Tim Hortons coffee cups - littered the residential streets.

On Sunday, Sept. 2, a nun at Main Street's St. Joseph University Parish told parishioners, "We welcome you back to the neighborhood, but please keep your cups in your house."

The Student Association e-board and two other students went to Winspear Avenue to help clean up the messy aftermath of UB students' opening weekend of partying.

Kelly Donaher has lived in her Winspear home with her husband and children for eight years. She opened her door when she saw the boys cleaning and shouted, "Great job."

"Over the weekend it was just crazy," she told The Spectrum. "There was so much garbage all over the place. I came out today when I took my garbage out and I picked up all the way down to that second tree over down there," she pointed two doors down from her front door.

The major problem in the University Heights isn't mess outside of the houses, though. The houses themselves are hazardous, according to Dan Ryan, director of off-campus student relations.

Saturday was the first "housing blitz" of the semester, as Ryan and four inspectors from the City of Buffalo Office of Permits and Inspection investigated the safety of the century-old houses students rent on South Campus.

The housing blitz started in April 2011.

Students' lives are in jeopardy by living in some of the houses, according to Ryan.

Ryan and the inspectors covered 15 to 20 houses on Minnesota Avenue and Highgate Avenue on Saturday. All of the students let them in for an inspection upon request.

"Some of [the students] complained to their landlords, and the landlord was either unresponsive or slow to respond, so they were happy that someone was there that might help get the landlord's attention," Ryan said.

Donoher owns her home on Winspear, but described one of the landlords some of her neighbors have as "God-awful."

Ryan said no houses were condemned during Saturday's housing blitz, but many issues were found, like: unsafe porches, windows that didn't lock, faulty electrical problems, porches with no railings and garages in the bridge of collapse.

One house on Minnesota Avenue had people living on the third floor, which is illegal if there is only one staircase to exit from, Ryan said.

After each housing blitz, the inspectors write letters of violation to the landlords, and they have 30 days to address the problems in their homes. In some of the worst cases - like the house on Minnesota without railings on its porch - will give landlords 30 days to go directly to housing court and stand in front of a judge.

Ryan fears students renting some of these houses will experience tragedies, like similar houses have in other areas. On Sept. 3, Buffalo State students' porch collapsed at their rented home. A group was standing on the porch at a party when the incident occurred. Some students suffered minor injuries, according to WGRZ.com.

Amherst, the suburb that UB North Campus is in, was included in the list of America's Safest Cities in 2010, according to PRWeb. Yet the students on South Campus live in unsanitary Buffalo neighborhoods that are shrouded with crime and violence.

Brad Parker, a senior communication major, helped the e-board clean Winspear Avenue on Wednesday. He moved to South Campus for the first time this year for a new living experience with his fraternity brothers, but was disgusted by the mess around his new home - something that was never an issue when he lived on North Campus.

"When we're walking out to go to a party or to go celebrate something, we see garbage all over the streets and we actually literally see kids drop beer cans or chip bags," Parker said.

Parker, SA Treasurer Justin Neuwirt, President Travis Nemmer, Vice President Adam Zimnicki and Chief of Staff Thomas Scott filled four industrial-sized garbage bags with garbage from Winspear alone on Wednesday.

Neuwirt told Parker he was going to take advantage of his position, to "try to get a community service element that could help clean the area," Parker said.

"There are people who live here permanently, and there are pretty much students who trash this place," Neuwirt said. "As student leaders, I figure we should set some sort of an example for the rest of the student body."

The students aren't the only ones concerned with the well being of the University Heights. Each street in the Heights has a "block club," which meets about twice a month to discuss issues in the neighborhood. They plant gardens, clean up the area and report tenants who cause any issues.

Neuwirt said the members of the block clubs are tenants with full-time jobs and families, so they can't dedicate their lives to fixing the issues in University Heights.

"Unfortunately, it's nobody's fault, but it becomes a lot of talking and not a lot of doing," Neuwirt said. "They always come up with grand plans to do stuff. I know they do garden plantings and stuff like that, but at the end of the day a lot of it becomes dead-end issues."

SA is making strides to better the South Campus neighborhood by continuing its biannual "Community Day" and "UB Getting Dirty." The first Community Day is on Sept. 29, and students will spend the day cleaning up South Campus, picking up garbage or painting the local fire station.

Neuwirt hopes to expand SA's effort for improving the safety and welfare of the South Campus community by dedicating more than four days a year to events like Community Day and UB Getting Dirty. No official plans have been made as of yet.

The next housing blitz will occur this Saturday and most Saturdays in the fall and spring, according to Ryan.

Email: news@ubspectrum.com