Editor’s Note: Due to space constraints in our print edition, the following letter was shortened from its original length when published this week. The full letter appears below.
This letter is submitted in response to Joseph Lembo’s letters published in the April 1st and April 8th, 2021 editions of The Independent (“Call for three-student limit ignores the facts”, “Three Student Ordinance is flawed and ignores character of our town”)
Mr. Limbo states on April 1st that a recent editorial and emails to the Council attacking a Town Council member were called “harsh,” and that this “magnifies the need to clear the air of misinformation.” He said there is an effort by small neighborhood resident groups and their spokespeople to bully and intimidate the current Town Council members. The remainder of Mr. Lembo’s letter is devoted to claiming that neighborhood groups base our support for the new three-student ordinance on eight-year old facts. He then goes on to credit Narragansett 2100 for the improved police statistics regarding student disturbances. He says neighborhood groups have turned a blind eye to landlord progress.
Mr Lembo got two “facts” right in his April 1st letter. The first is that the Eastward Look riot seven years ago necessitated Town action; namely the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee. Landlords formed the 2100 group as a defensive measure realizing student rental abuse had gone too far. The other correct fact is that limiting the number of persons in a rental will not eliminate “the rare 1% of nuisances or restrict “persons” from gathering in a larger group.” For the record, they were never intended to limit gatherings, they are intended to limit households.
Realizing Mr. Lembo’s references to editorials and letters are those I wrote and submitted, I want to restate the facts driving widespread resident support for the “three-student” ordinance. I also want to point out that Mr. Lembo consistently touts improved police statistics regarding student disturbances because it is the only line of defense landlords have.
Disturbances for which police are called reflect only the tip of the iceberg of neighborhood student rental problems. Five, six and seven students in rental houses creates overflow parking nuisances in crowded neighborhoods along with late night music, talking and door closing noise that wakes neighbors up and intrudes on the quality of their neighborhood life. None of these daily occurrences show up in police statistics. Narragansett’s large stock of three and sometimes four bedroom raised ranches and cape style homes, were built as family homes, not dormitories. And when homes become dormitories, their yards become sports and party arenas.
Town rental data reveals that home conversions to student/summer rentals have grown by ten percent in the past five years, an unsustainable rate. At least eight thousand students live in Narragansett, over half the population of URI. During this same period public school enrollment has declined at proportional rates. Rental homes in Narragansett yield anywhere from thirty to seventy thousand dollars per year, a gold mine for landlords running businesses. Landlords pay residential tax rates while burdening residents with the added policing and administrative costs that bring about the improved police statistics Mr. Lembo loves to promote.
Most landlords do not live in Narragansett and have taken every opportunity to stuff students in every corner of rental homes since 2017 when Judge DeCubellis shot down our original four-unrelateds ordinance citing “stari decisis” due to the 1994 Fortunato decision that ruled against Narragansett’s original three student ordinance; a decision overturned by the recent RI Supreme Court decision. Narragansett 2100 recently tried secretly negotiating their lawsuit settlement with the Town by requesting the student limit be increased substantially. Fortunately, the town rejected their offer. The key take-away here is that no limit is enough for landlords; more students per house is always better, irrespective of the neighborhood degradation residents are forced to endure.
At the February 8th Town Council workshop landlords who took it upon themselves to turn basements, garages and porches into dormrooms argued that a three-student limit made investments in their rental properties “unaffordable.” Many argued that a three-student limit prevents them from ultimately turning their rental properties into retirement homes? That the Town is somehow responsible for their greed driven investments would be laughable were it not so egregiously selfish.
Note that Mr Lembo ends his April 8th letter by complaining that Eastward look landlords need student rentals to maintain and utilize their homes during summer. He said renters pay taxes and support local businesses. Very few Eastward Look Landlords use their properties in summer, and if they do it’s for a week to a month. The summer rental business is too lucrative for them to miss. Again, these rentals are greed driven business investments many of which are never visited by owners and poorly maintained.
Sadly, the people who are really subsidizing these landlord “retirement” investments are the resident neighbors of these rental homes who are forced to put up with intrusions to the peaceful enjoyment of their properties, a fundamental property right. And by the way, residents pay the same taxes and, by definition, provide more local business support than renters and students.
Mr. Lembo’s remaining April 8th arguments are equally flawed. Yes, URI significantly limited on-campus student living density due to Covid-19. And yes, that decision dumped more students and more cases of Covid-19 into Narragansett. For years URI has shown complete disregard for Narragansett, yet somehow Mr. Lembo feels Narragansett residents are somehow obliged to accommodate student housing densities that URI, by its very action, deemed unsafe. And the fact that fewer students per house drives student rents up is URI’s problem. Let them provide adequate housing. Finally, high real estate prices exist across Southern RI because it’s a desirable place to live, especially now that so many people employed in cities can work from home. Too many student rentals actually depress those values and have drained too many neighborhoods of families that they were built to serve.
Make no mistake about it, student rental properties in Narragansett are supported on the backs of residents forced to put up with them, and not by the good deeds of Narragansett 2100, an organization whose guiding mission is that richer is better.
And again, three verses even four is a twenty-five percent reduction in student impact per household. Therefore, effective enforcement of our three-student ordinance will finally level the playing field on behalf of residents who have waited twenty-five years.