Proposal to limit student housing in Rittenhouse amended

A proposal to ban housing for students in the neighborhood surrounding Rittenhouse Square was amended by a City Council committee on Wednesday so that it will now pertain to just the single block it originated from. Instead of prohibiting housing for students, it now simply prohibits landlords from specifically marketing apartments to students on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street. 

The bill was introduced in September on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke. In its first version, it would have banned boarding houses, frat houses, sorority houses and other types of rental housing for students in the area bounded by 17th, 21st, Spruce and Walnut streets. It pulled the definition of “student” from another part of the zoning code: individuals under the age of 23 who are enrolled in a college or university.

Shortly after the bill was introduced, the Center City Residents Association cried foul. The bill would undermine the eclectic character of the Rittenhouse neighborhood and was far too broad a solution for a narrow concern, CCRA felt.

The proposal originated on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street, a small alley with two large garage buildings that are currently being converted into apartment buildings. Residents of that block worried that the apartments would be rented to students, and that the students would ruin the block with their carrying on.

At an initial committee hearing on the proposal last month, CCRA President Charles Goodwin said he was sympathetic to the Rittenhouse Square Street residents’ worries. But banning student housing in the whole neighborhood was an overreaction, he said. The CCRA board had also voted against the bill.

At its meeting in October, the City Planning Commission voted to disapprove the bill, as it has in the past when housing restrictions are aimed at a specific class of people.

The amended version of the bill, which was recommended for approval by Council’s Rules Committee on Wednesday, limits the regulation to just the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street. In that block, it bans group living and “Housing, not owner-occupied, for students rented only to students … or the marketing of which include the phrases student housing, student living, student apartments, or other such terms suggesting rentals are available only to students or is directed primarily to students.”

The Planning Commission maintained its opposition to the bill. The Center City Residents Association didn’t take a position on the amended version, which it was able to review only yesterday, according to Charles Goodwin. Goodwin said that the Association’s executive committee was split evenly between people who wanted to help out the residents of Rittenhouse Square Street and those who felt that any blanket prohibition on a specific group of people was wrong.

“It’s judging people merely on their status rather than on their conduct, and of course none of us want to be judged that way,” Goodwin said.

The bill now goes to the full Council for a final vote.

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