UCR students protest housing ordinance, offer alternative legislation

Jake Rich/HIGHLANDER
Jake Rich/HIGHLANDER

UCR Highlanders held up signs that read “Reform the Ordinance,” “Listen,” and “Stop Treating Us Like Children,” during the 100 Student March event at Riverside City Hall on Feb. 25. Demonstrating opposition to the 2013-14 city housing ordinances, protesters say the rules discriminate against students living off-campus. The event was organized by members of ASUCR, who delivered an alternative piece of legislation to the city council members, asking for a fairer process when neighborhood complaints are filed.

Back in August of 2013, the Riverside city council voted to adopt an ordinance that required homeowners to obtain a permit when leasing to more than two residents in a single family household; this also launched additional city ordinances, such as one to limit the expansion of the aforementioned households, which were condemned by the ASUCR senate.

Standing outside the glass windows of Riverside City Hall, UCR student and ASUCR’s Local Affairs Liaison Breana Ross led a group of over 30 protesters who chanted: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” as councilmembers met. Soon after, an unarmed police officer approached the crowd and directed them to quiet down. “I understood there was something possibly disturbing the meeting, so they called the department and we came and handled it,” officer Rusty Stump later commented on the police response.

Around 15 students also lined up in front of the city council and were given three minutes each to make their remarks during the public comment period of the city meeting. Ross opened the forum by stating, “Ultimately this is about rights; our rights as students, renters and most importantly as citizens.” Ross went on to say that the decision to implement the permit ordinance was made without student input and caused students to be harassed by their neighbors and ultimately lose their housing.

UCR graduate student and Riverside citizen Aaron Seitz also referred to the permit housing ordinance, which he says targeted both the student and low-income populations who attempt to seek more affordable housing. However, city council members, such as Mike Gardner, have argued that the housing ordinance sought to prevent owners from cutting up their homes and create “mini-dorms.”

Seitz suggests overturning the permit ordinance, along with a decades-old city law, which prohibits four or more unrelated residents from living together in a single-family household. “The efficiency of having multiple people renting a house makes sense,” he said, “and if there is a problem regarding noise, I think there are better solutions than saying people can’t live together.”

The alternative legislation — outlined by Ross and spearheaded by ASUCR Senator Fernando Echeverria — proposed regulations that would simplify the current process and “prevent discrimination” against students. If an issue of misconduct were to arise, such as a noise disturbance or a dispute of residential upkeep, the person filing the complaint would notify the city and the tenants in question. An investigation would then be conducted by patrolling officers who would confirm that problematic conduct had occurred. The tenant must correct the issue within 30 days and must have zero incidents “within the home of order” thereafter. The legislation would also eliminate the room renter maximum, currently capped at four, which the legislation’s authors described as “problematic.”

Councilman Andy Melendrez put forward a few suggestions for mending the problem of affordability, saying, “The balance we need to have is to try to find a way to make the homes more affordable for the students … with that, I think it’s important we move forward with staff members of the city, students and UCR staff to find a solution in an individual committee.” Melendrez also suggested an independent study to confirm and verify the issue of a lack of affordable student housing.

Student protesters hope to bring the legislation to a city council vote in the future.

Breana Ross also works for the Highlander as an advertising representative.

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