Residents and students divided on solution for partying culture in UB's University Heights neighborhood
Two married UB faculty members sat on the porch of their University Heights home Friday night and watched groups of UB students parading past, searching for house parties. Two weekends ago, they counted 200 in a span of 20 minutes walking past their Winspear Avenue home in the Heights, which surrounds South Campus.
A group of six drunken male students even used their front lawn and bottom steps as a stopping point to figure out where the next party was. The female resident eventually brought out pieces of honey cake on Styrofoam plates with plastic forks for the visitors.
“Find a good time but don’t act like a jerk,” she said of her mentality about the student partygoers.
“People live here,” her husband said. “This isn’t Bourbon Street.”
Jackie Deniston, a junior health and human services major, also sat on her Winspear Avenue porch this weekend. On Saturday night, she said a freshman student approached her porch asking to use a phone because he had just been mugged on Lisbon Avenue and had lost everything.
“So you can bust up parties,” Deniston said, pointing down Winspear where a Buffalo Police car’s lights flashed, “but you can’t stop this?”
Friction is again occurring in the Heights. The conflict pits students who want to have fun against residents who want a quiet life and police who are charged with patrolling the neighborhood that is home to approximately 1,300 UB students.
The drinking, noise and litter of opening weekend has outraged local residents and received local media attention. Buffalo Police responded this past weekend with crackdowns on parties, arresting 12 UB students and referring a total of 60 to University Police. The University Heights Collaborative, which has banded together to improve the reputation of the area, held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss student partying.
But students who spoke with The Spectrum this weekend, some while wandering the Heights and others from their apartments’ front porches, feel the increased police attention and scrutiny is unwarranted. They feel like partying is a part of college – that Heights residents should expect it and that the police should focus their attention on crime like robbery and gang violence surrounding the neighborhood.
Buffalo Police reported 523 major crimes like robbery, burglaries and assaults, in the Heights in 2012. A Buffalo Police crime statistics search of the Heights shows more than 30 similar crimes in the past month alone.
“We’re just trying to have a good time, not cause havoc,” said Seamus McGovern, a history and international studies major who lives on Winspear.
All sides have questions for one another. Should Buffalo Police be doing more to stop partying and will their crackdowns on parties keep up? What responsibility does UB have in the situation? Should issues like crime and housing be at the forefront of a discussion on how to improve the Heights rather than underage drinking?
The only thing that feels certain is that the issue isn’t going to be solved anytime soon.
Breaking down the Heights
Partying in the Heights is nothing new.
Residents have complained for years about the parties and UB’s 24-hour bus service that many students call “the drunk bus” and use to get down into the Heights. Residents have also asked for more help from University Police, which does not patrol the area and only assists Buffalo Police when asked – as it was 11 times this weekend.
“UB strives to maintain a positive ongoing relationship with the University Heights community and takes residents’ concerns about student behavior very seriously,” said UB Spokesperson John Della Contrada in an email. “Fostering this relationship starts with UB working proactively with the City of Buffalo, UB students and the community to promote good student citizenship, provide resources to residents and address student behavior.”
Della Contrada said UB has no plans to change the 24-hour bus service or UPD’s involvement with off-campus disturbances.
The student renters who throw the Heights’ large-scale parties are usually affiliated with both on-campus and illegal Greek life or some kind of campus organization, and the parties can often pack hundreds of people into houses that were built around a century ago.
Aside from the parties, many students chose to live in the Heights for the cheap rent and free transportation to North Campus. Jane Truesdell, Deniston’s roommate, said she’d rather live in the Heights and pay around $350 a month as opposed to paying $700 a month to live in the Villas off North Campus.
South Campus has become less active in recent years. UB has moved the Medical School downtown, taking away the campus’s main draw. The Law School and Schools of Social Work and Architecture will move to South in the next few years.
Relationships between students and residents
Some students can’t understand why residents would move into the Heights and then complain about partying.
“It’s college, what do you expect?” said one sophomore male student, who asked not to be named, after police broke up a party he was attending on Winspear Avenue Friday. “You should not move on Winspear if you’re not down to party.”
The faculty members who sat on their porch, who asked to not be named out of fear of bringing attention to their home, said students who have that mentality don’t understand what a community is. They moved into their Winspear Avenue home during the summer and said it’s a great place to live outside of the weekend rowdiness that accompanies the start of the semester.
And they say it’s not their student neighbors that are causing trouble in the Heights – it’s the students that don’t live there and come looking for a party.
They said they’ve met with some of the students who live on their street and they were all friendly. Some even took interest in their home and garden. They said that most parties aren’t that loud, but the students looking for them are and they often leave behind trash.
McGovern said he gets along fine with one of his Winspear Avenue neighbors, but not with the other. He said the former has told him and his roommates she knows they’re going to party, and only asks they try to keep it down past 2 a.m. He offered the latter his cell phone number and asked her to call them first instead of the police.
He says the neighbor scoffed at the idea.
Truesdell, a junior communication and health and human services major, doesn’t have to deal with her neighbors much. Friends live in the apartment to her right and the house on her left is unoccupied.
Her house proudly dons a “Dad Bods only” sign from the roof and threw a few small parties last weekend. Students, particularly those in fraternities, displaying offensive signs from their apartments have garnered national attention recently and The Buffalo News reported in its article Friday that a Heights home displayed a sign saying “At UB, moms drink FREE.”
Truesdell said her apartment’s sign was for fun and she hopes it doesn’t offend anyone.
The faculty couple doesn’t think the students are all to blame for the partying – they think the landlords deserve some too. Landlords need to have polices about no partying and capacity limits to discourage students from hosting large-scale parties, the male resident said.
Dan Ryan, UB’s director of Off-Campus Student Services, said most leases have a quiet enjoyment clause that guarantees residents the quiet enjoyment of their home. But he admits the parties that house 250 students go “well and beyond quiet enjoyment.”
Absentee landlordism and crime in the Heights
McGovern said residents complain about the partying but the party streets could be worse.
“At least people aren’t getting shot,” he said.
The Heights have larger crime issues than underage drinking – like robbery, assault and gang violence.
Buffalo Police crime statistics show more than 30 crimes committed ranging from theft, assault, breaking and entering and robbery in the Heights neighborhood just from the past month. The Davidson Bailey Boys are a well-known street gang that operates on the borders of the Heights and is made up of smaller gangs that control individual streets like Minnesota Avenue, as reported by The Buffalo News.
Students who live in the Heights and spoke to The Spectrum said they’re very aware of the crimes in the neighborhood and think the increased patrol for parties this past weekend takes away from addressing more serious crime.
“Buffalo Police have so much more to deal with,” McGovern said.
The Spectrum made several calls to Buffalo Police’s E-District, which oversees the Heights, this weekend for comment, but was told to call Buffalo Police headquarters on Monday. The Spectrum was then told Monday that only Buffalo Police Spokesperson Michael DeGeorge could provide comment. He did not return phone calls by press time.
Poor housing conditions in the Heights and absentee landlordism have plagued the neighborhood for years. Ryan has accompanied City of Buffalo inspectors into Heights homes and seen violations from black mold, asbestos, faulty wiring and lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Mickey Vertino, University Heights Collaborative president, said at Tuesday night’s meeting that his biggest concern with the partying is the safety of the 100-200 people who pack into the homes. He said the houses simply aren’t equipped for that.
“If a fire does start, not only will that house be quick to be consumed, most of them don’t have quick smoke detectors anyway,” Ryan said. “Many of people attending, there’s a decent likelihood they’ve consumed something that makes their response time longer than it would normally be …The houses are not built to hold that many students.”
Will the police crackdowns keep up?
It was hard to walk down streets like Winspear and Northrup Place Friday night without seeing flashing police lights.
At the start of the night, police were simply cruising down Heights streets, occasionally turning on their lights. It caused one woman screaming from a Winspear Avenue roof to go silent. But by around 11:30 p.m., the parties and the police got more active.
Around 1 a.m. Saturday morning, seven police cars were lined up on Winspear to break up one party. The police ticketed student renters on their front lawns after party breakups. Buffalo Police arrested 12 students and UPD received 60 referrals.
“We have taken a proactive approach and are trying to deal with students by going into the house party when we see one,” said Buffalo Police E-District Captain Carmen Menza said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Whoever is responsible will be arrested.”
The faculty couple would be disappointed if Buffalo Police layoff on crackdowns as the weekends go by. But that’s exactly what most students are expecting.
The students’consensus is that Buffalo Police will be hard on parties for the first few weeks to appease residents and then ease up eventually. Some students don’t even think the police will be needed as the weeks go by and the temperature drops.
“Seventy-five percent of the year, no one is here,” Truesdell said. “Halloween will be last time a lot of people come down to South.”
She said the majority of kids wandering the streets right now are freshmen looking to meet people. Menza said as much at the meeting, adding that the “first month [of the semester] is the worst” and that the freshmen come in and just want to have a good time.
Still, residents had suggestions at Tuesday’s meeting for improving the Heights – from checking students’ IDs at the bus stop to publicly shaming students for intoxicated behavior. Between Fall Fest Saturday and Greek Life’s Rush Week, partying in the Heights this weekend may not let up despite the crackdowns.
With broken glass and trash littering the streets, one local resident living on Highgate Avenue griped at Tuesday’s meeting that he is is unable to walk his dog.