The Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on a new multi-family housing development in response to resident concerns about off-campus student housing.
The public hearing will be held Sept. 6 at 6:35 p.m. in the Council Chamber of Mansfield Town Hall. If the proposal passes, the commission will not receive applications to establish or expand apartment complex development for a period of nine months.
According to the proposal, the moratorium is designed to give the commission time to ensure that new multi-family housing aligns with the Mansfield Tomorrow Plan of Conservation and Development’s vision for the area.
Mansfield mayor Paul Shapiro said that while many University of Connecticut students who live in town are perfectly good neighbors, absentee landlords and inappropriate behavior, including noisy parties and intoxication, from a minority of students reduces the quality of life in Mansfield.
“Sometimes those students, or those landlords, say ‘get used to it, you live in a college town’ and that’s not a fair way to look at it in my opinion. They live in a residential neighborhood and they need to respect the people who live there who are waking up and raising families,” Shapiro said.
While there is no “magic bullet” to resolve this town/gown issue, Shapiro said there is an opportunity to reflect on the state of housing in Mansfield since UConn did not significantly increase the size of 2016’s freshman class after state budget cuts.
“Now is a good time to work more closely with (the university) to consider the impacts of Next Gen on Mansfield and Mansfield neighborhoods,” Shapiro said. “There needs to be, I think, some sort of recognition that there is a problem and that we need to figure out a solution together.”
Rebecca Shafer, co-founder of the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group, said the influx of student renters in the area destabilizes existing neighborhoods by increasing traffic and exposing the otherwise quiet community to disruptive parties. Shafer, whose group has over 400 members on Facebook, said UConn is doing both students and the community a disservice by not providing enough housing for the 29 percent of students who live off-campus.
Although university figures and the results of MNPG’s impact study differ slightly, both report that over 12,200 of UConn Storr’s graduate and undergraduate students lived off campus in 2015. Mansfield has 11,100 permanent residents, according to a MNPG press release, meaning students could constitute over 50 percent of the town’s population.
“This is a national problem, it’s not just UConn, but we’re more impacted by it because our town is small,” Shafer said. “There’s senior citizens, there’s families with babies, that’s not a place to have 200 sober ribes pulling up in front of it. These are family neighborhoods.”
Shafer, who has lived in Mansfield nearly her entire life, said the prevalence of multiple student renters occupying single-family homes has also inflated rent to the point that young and low income families can no longer afford to live in the area.
“It’s not so much the fact that it’s student rentals, it’s more of a fact that so many of our owner occupied homes have become investment properties for people to come in and buy out our houses from under us,” Shafer said. “If a low income family wants to move in and buy a house, they just can’t find one because the rent for houses are $2,800 to $4,200.”
Not all off-campus students live in Mansfield, though, said John Armstrong, director of UConn Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS) and a member of the Town-University Relations Committee. Students live everywhere from Manchester to Windham and all points in between, including with their parents, but aren’t required to report this information, he said.
Armstrong said he has received a number of complaints about disruptive student behavior, however, and works to educate off-campus students on this issue.
“I address students directly and talk with them in a respectful manner about what it means to live in a community,” Armstrong said. “Most of the time when we have those conversations, they get it, they understand it, and they acknowledge the behavior and make the community a better place.”
OCSS also reaches out to off-campus students living in apartment complexes and single-family rentals throughout the UConn area to engage in proactive discussions about respecting the larger community.
The university doesn’t require students to live on campus, Armstrong said, so students are able to make the decision to live in a dorm, apartment or single-family unit based on their own needs and personal preferences.
“Whether there’s enough housing on campus or off campus, at the end of the day it’s a personal choice,” Armstrong said. “We want students to feel as if they have control over where they live.”
In addition to building more residence halls, Shafer said she believes there are many small policy changes, like loosening up restrictions surrounding alcohol and requiring freshmen and sophomores to live in dorms, that UConn could make to draw students back on campus.
The Board of Trustees should also invite the mayor to sit on the board so that the needs of the Mansfield community are better represented, Shafer said.
Shapiro said that while he doesn't have a strong position on the matter, the university should incorporate more of a local voice into its decision making process.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.