Driving around the neighborhoods adjacent to UWSP, it becomes apparent that our community is facing a growing problem. Many student houses near campus are suffering from owner neglect and unaccountability to an extent visible to almost everyone. Century-old historic houses and craftsman-style bungalows rich in cultural and aesthetic wonder, are degrading and becoming unsalvageable. Foundations are crumbling, paint is peeling, and front yards are becoming aluminum trash heaps. As a local resident described it to me, “our surrounding neighborhood is slowly becoming a crumbling shantytown devoid of self-pride and a collective community image for the future.” The degradation of our neighborhood houses should evoke alarm among local leaders since this decline is threatening the livability and connectedness of our entire community. As involved and aware citizens, we must look to address this growing property problem and look for solutions that aim to save the historic houses of Stevens Point while benefiting both permanent residents and students in a reciprocal manner.
For a large percentage of college students, the dilemma of finding satisfactory off-campus housing is a rather perilous endeavor filled with stress, anxiety, cluelessness and parent-child conflict. Locating affordable housing that meets certain standards such as proximity to campus, curb-appeal, hominess, etc. can be a challenging task. Paired with the dramatically high turnover rate of college rentals, the search frequently takes the form of a malicious race; forcing many students to compromise and endure undesirable housing situations. While some efforts have been made by the University to provide on-campus student housing for upperclassmen, many of these options are a financial impossibility for lower-income students. Generally speaking, most UWSP students leave the residential halls after either their freshman or sophomore years. These fresh-out-of-the-dorm 18 to 20 year old students—who have little or no experience with rentals, housing contracts and independent decision making—are forced to make uniformed hasty decisions with property owners who are well-versed in the student-rental business.
As a fifth year college senior, I have seen and experienced the problematic relations between student renters and landlords firsthand. The exploitative model of business that a number of Stevens Point’s landlords employ is harmful to the houses, the students who rent them, and the community members who surround them. Many landlords find it monetarily advantageous to delay or even refuse to fix up and maintain rental properties due to their perception that college students simply do not care and will fork over rent, regardless. While this is not the case for all, many landlords are looking to make the most money off their properties as possible while spending the least money and the least time dealing with them. Unfortunately, in an economic climate of a campus community, where the supply-demand balance of affordable student housing is heavily skewed, this neglectful and unjust business practice is able to sustain itself quite successfully.
As an engaged student and member of our community, I am advocating for a community push to hold property owners accountable and responsible for their properties and the students who occupy them. Currently, many landlords are exerting little effort in maintaining the beauty and integrity of the historical houses that make up our campus neighborhoods. Consequently, this is having a profound effect on our community’s image, sense of place, and even our wellbeing. Observing how student-landlord relations continue to worsen and how property upkeep continues to be ignored, I firmly believe that the student housing situation in Stevens Point is situated at an ominous crossroads. If we do not do something soon, the effects of such degradation may be rendered irreversible.
As an advocate for historic preservation and community education, I believe that intact, well-kept houses provide the backbone for a community to flourish. When adequately maintained, the built environment can serve as a practical means to sustain a successful community, as well as a representative artifact that provides a community with an important educational and cultural context for knowing itself better. However, if we allow our neighborhoods to deteriorate under shortsighted, disengaged and exploitative property management ventures, we risk losing the foundation of our past and the means to our future prosperity.
—Gustav (Gus) Schermetzler
Gus is a History & Broadfield Social Science Major and Anthropology Minor at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He graduates in May 2015 and plans to become a teacher.
Tags: Community, Deterioration, Historic Preservation, Neighborhoods, Rentals, Student Housing