Janesville60.1°

Students spread out in Whitewater

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Kayla Bunge
August 27, 2008
— Roy Nosek was jarred by the "wholesale conversion" of Tratt Street from single-family neighborhood to multi-family residential.

"In a frighteningly short period of time, Tratt Street ... fell to its knees, sacked by the conversion to student rental housing," he wrote in an e-mail to The Janesville Gazette. "Garage doors were walled over ... added cars spilled over onto sidewalks and lawns while garbage cans spilled into poor Tratt Street.


"The neighborhood died overnight, without a fight and forever."


The single-family neighborhoods near the UW-Whitewater campus are changing, and longtime residents are upset that students are spilling out of what traditionally were areas of student housing and into their single-family neighborhoods.


Nosek, a member of the Whitewater City Council, said the problem has in the last few years reached "a new, critical level," and last fall he pushed for the formation of the Whitewater Housing Task Force to address the problem.


He said the loss of single-family homes to multi-family rentals is "the single most important issue" facing the city.


More students

The student population in Whitewater is growing, and the UW-Whitewater campus is changing.


The university provides on-campus housing for about 3,800 students.


"We've always comfortably housed students," said Jeff Janz, interim dean of student life and former director of residence life. "We've never turned anybody away."


But the university recently lost two residence halls to make room for the new College of Business and Economics, eliminating about 400 beds. A new, suite-style residence hall will open for the fall 2010 semester, adding about 450 beds.


"We're overcrowded on campus as we prepare to build the new dorm," Janz said.


Because of the on-campus housing crunch, the university is allowing second-year students to live off campus if they have good grades and good behavior and if they complete an online course about living off campus.


Nosek said such a policy puts added pressure on the single-family neighborhoods near campus.


Older houses

The housing stock near the UW-Whitewater campus is aging, and many off-campus rental properties have fallen into disrepair.


Students are looking for decent places to live.


"If you want a nice place to live for fair rates, it's where you've got to go," said Dane Checolinski, a UW-Whitewater senior and member of the housing task force. "Moving into a single-family home that's well taken care of—those are the homes that I'd personally like to live in."


But it's not landlords that are "converting" single-family homes to multi-family rentals.


"The professional landlords aren't buying the single-family homes that you can just put three people in," said Donna Henry, chairwoman of the Whitewater Rental Association and member of the housing task force. "Economically, it's not feasible with the mortgage, insurance, taxes and upkeep. The people who are buying those are parents. And that has added a new dimension to the whole thing."


Within single-family residential neighborhoods, Whitewater city code prohibits more than three unrelated people to live under one roof. Within multi-family residential neighborhoods, a household is limited to five unrelated people.


Despite the codes, many single-family homes are being rented to more than three students, residents say.


Dying neighborhoods

Residents say the shift from streets full of quiet, single-family homes to streets dotted with loud, student party houses is ruining their neighborhoods.


"It's totally against the law, and it just kind of ruins the whole atmosphere of the single-family home neighborhood," said Jeff Eppers, who lives about a block from the UW-Whitewater campus on Starin Road. "It's an epidemic here right now."


He said his property value went down $21,000 last year because the house next door, bought by parents and rented to their children and other students, hasn't been maintained.


But it's not only the fact that students are moving into the single-family neighborhoods that has residents concerned. They take issue with the fact that some students don't care about where they live.


"If you drive through town, you can notice a college house even if it's not supposed to be," Eppers said.


Henry said residents expect landlords to handle troublesome students, but that's not a landlord's job.


"(Landlords) are responsible for the condition of the property," she said. "We cannot be responsible for the students' behavior."


But Henry understands residents' concerns.


"Some (students) are less considerate than others of the needs and wants of their neighbors," she said. "But the student's lifestyle is not like that of a single family. It's a totally different lifestyle that doesn't always fit in well."


It's possible for students and families to live in harmony, but students often fail to reconcile their way of life with that of their neighbors, Checolinski said.


"If they fail to understand that the person next door has a 3-year-old daughter who's sick and needs to sleep, until they face that menacing neighbor next door, they'll never understand," he said.


Aggressive enforcement

Residents, students and landlords seem to agree that the way to maintain the integrity of the single-family neighborhoods near the UW-Whitewater campus is for the city to enforce its housing ordinances: Occupancy rules must be followed, properties must be well maintained and property owners who violate those ordinances must be held accountable.


"The city is not enforcing its laws," Eppers said. "The city has to step in no matter what the cost to protect the people it made the laws for."


In fact, many students would support further city action to ensure the houses they live in off campus are in good condition, Checolinski said.


"We need to make sure that the homes close to campus are habitable," he said.


But Checolinski said students feel that no matter what happens, some neighbors always will be against them living in their neighborhood.


"These people don't want students living in their neighborhood, but they have no suggestions for where students should live," he said. "They want the university to house every single student."



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