The Communities Outreach to Solve Issues with Off-Campus Housing
By: Jordan Smith
February 24th 2014, Frostburg, MD-It was windy and bone chilling evening, but that did not stop members of the Frostburg community from gathering on Monday night to discuss off-campus housing issues and solutions. The dialogue series titled, “Living With Each Other: A Discussion of Off-Campus Housing Solutions,” was led by Dr. Ruminski at the Lyrics Theater on Main street. This workshop touched on many topics that have not only become a concern for students, but for the community as well. The audience and speakers of the event included students, facility, alumni, landlords, law enforcement, and even the mayor. It was a time for the community to come together discuss how we can improve off-campus living.
With the recent tragic loss of student, in an off-campus house fire, the community is raising the red flag on the safety of these rental properties. With some of the houses being close to almost 100 years old, the safety of the renter could be put at risk at any unexpected time. This workshop was a great way for people of the community to raise their concerns, thoughts, and ideas, to the people that are affected by these issues. The four main topics of the work shop included, “What do we know? What do we need to know? What can we do?” and, “How can we support each other to get through this?”
The first speaker of the night was Frostburg’s Dean of Students, Jesse Ketterman. He started off by giving a very touching speech about the life of Lateef, the student lost in the recent house fire. Ketterman included many interesting facts that the community had been unaware of, and afterward the room shared a moment of silence in memory of Lateef. The workshop proceeded into a question and answer segment, and there were many concerned individuals that addressed very important issues. Some of these issues included, “Who is responsible for the up keep and safety of these homes? How can we educate the students?” and, “How can the community can come together to solve these issues?”
Next up to speak was the city’s Code Inspector and Enforcer, Mark Monnett. He answered questions for almost an hour, informing the audience of the many ideas that the city has for off-campus housing in the future. One idea that he addressed, was installing new smoke detectors that are virtually tamper proof to students. Unfortunately, this product is not only hard to purchase, but to have them installed in all 700+ off-campus houses would be extremely expensive. However, even with the downsides of the product, the audience agreed that it would stop students from removing the smoke detectors and potentially putting their lives in danger. “It will be a collective effort to insure that these events will not happen, but it is also important that students also be aware of their property, and be able to keep themselves safe.”
Finally, to get a student’s perspective, Zach Nalepa discussed his own experiences with off-campus housing. “I think the biggest problem with housing, is with the students not knowing what’s okay and what’s not okay when renting properties. If you have a good landlord, it makes the process a lot easier,” stated Nalepa. He discussed many possible ideas, such as a course for students about rental maintenance and safety. If a student was to complete the course, they could receive a discount on their rental costs. This is something that would get more students involved in maintenance and up keep of their property. This would not only benefit students, but it would help landlords get more involved with their renters as well.
Over the span of this three-hour workshop, many questions and concerns were addressed by the community of Frostburg. Most of them were successfully answered, but there will always be more concerns that will need to be addressed at a later date. All in all, the audience agreed that it was a successful community dialogue. Even if these issues could take time to fix, it will have to be a community effort to ensure that no individual’s life is in danger due to poor housing conditions.