In the scenic neighborhood of University Park, Dallas, a zoning law from 1985 is casting a long shadow over the lives of students from Southern Methodist University (SMU). This ordinance, which restricts more than two unrelated individuals from sharing a dwelling, is now being inconsistently enforced, creating a wave of concern among the student community.
The law states, "In the residential districts, no more than two unrelated individuals may occupy a dwelling unit, building or portion of a building." Intended to maintain the residential character of University Park, this ordinance is now seen as a barrier for students seeking affordable housing options near campus. As a result, many are forced to reconsider their living arrangements, leading to increased financial strain and logistical challenges.
The enforcement of this law disproportionately affects students of lower means. The ability to share accommodations with multiple roommates is often a financial necessity for many. The enforcement of this zoning law, while only directly impacting a slim number of neighbors, disproportionately affects hundreds of students each year, creating a significant imbalance in the community. On top of this, the zoning law restricting more than two unrelated individuals from living together is selectively enforced, as evidenced by sorority and fraternity houses often housing well over the allowed limit. This disparity in enforcement, which ostensibly aims to reduce noise and inconvenience, seemingly exempts Greek life residences while placing undue burden on other student groups.
The ordinance's revival comes after the University Park City Council's unanimous decision to address noise, parking, and trash complaints. However, students argue that the enforcement targets them unfairly, citing the lack of similar restrictions in neighboring areas like Dallas and Highland Park. Sofia Lyon (Class of 2023) mentioned that she was “forced to vacate her lease” because of the zoning ordinance; and how it not only “greatly inconvenienced her logistically”, but meant she was forced to bring a car to Dallas and “pay more in rent”.
Students now compelled to live farther from campus face additional challenges. The increased reliance on public transport, bicycles, or ride-sharing services not only adds to their expenses but also raises concerns about safety and convenience. The close proximity to campus, a crucial factor for many, is lost in this shuffle.
The enforcement may also impact the local real estate market. Apartments and homes near the university, which should always be in high demand due to their location, might struggle to find tenants willing to pay high rents without the option of sharing with multiple roommates. This could lead to a decrease in rental values, affecting property owners and the local economy.
The enforcement of this zoning law from 1985 raises crucial questions about fairness, affordability, and the evolving needs of a university-centric community. While it is important to address residents' concerns about noise and parking, it is equally crucial to consider the impact on a significant segment of the community - the students. A balanced approach, perhaps revising the ordinance to reflect contemporary realities, might be the key to resolving this issue amicably for all parties involved.
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