Residents decry flash mob prevention approach

At a meeting hosted by the Central Roxborough Civic Association Thursday night, representatives of St. Joseph’s University and Philadelphia University met with about 30 residents of Roxborough and Manayunk to discuss “flash mob parties” which are reportedly being held by students of the two universities who rent homes in the area. The parties have been a disturbance to area residents, and have proven frustrating to control.

“This is the most intensely difficult type of this problem we’ve ever had to deal with,” said Mark Govani, Dean of Students at Philadelphia University. Govani said that he has seen a “sea change” in terms of student housing, with many more students opting to live off campus in areas such as Manayunk and Roxborough.

Denys Davis, director of off-campus housing at St. Joseph’s, expressed that she has seen similar trends and that she receives as many as “10 calls a day” of people wanting to rent properties in Manayunk to students.

“Manayunk is the hot spot, but we’re trying to pull people back on campus,” said Davis.

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Both representatives said that their respective universities had programs in place to attract more students to live on campus, but that off-campus living is in vogue for students.

“Students seem to think that by moving to Manayunk, the law escapes them,” said Davis.

Residents who attended the meeting held at Leverington Presbyterian Church expressed similar sentiments, claiming that parties hosted by students of the University at area homes balloon into near riots, sometimes attracting, according to Manayunk resident Dereck Blackburn,”100 to 150″ people to a single row home.

“They have a party with about 50 people…then a wave of people leave then a bigger wave of people come in and we can hear it in our house,” said Blackburn, who lives on the 4300 block of Manayunk Avenue with his wife, Rebecca. “They’re screaming about where they saw another party on facebook and we can hear it until three or four in the morning.”

“I’ve lived in college towns…pretty much my whole life. I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen with these students,” said Rebecca Blackburn.

Other residents at the meeting spoke of hordes of young partygoers that stalk the neighborhood, searching for parties. Supposedly, they often bring with them noise, trash and sometimes a bad attitude, forcing local residents such as the Blackburns to confront the situation themselves or call the police.

Several residents at the meeting, however, expressed that these options are futile, as some student-renters have purportedly not respected the complaints of neighbors and as the parties in question often dissipate before the cops arrive. This has left many homeowners in Manayunk and Roxborough pointing their fingers at the source of their college-age neighbors: the universities themselves.

“We’re pretty serious about [taking action] when we know who it is,” said Davis, who emphasized that St. Joseph’s has numerous disciplinary initiatives in place. “We have a system in place that verifies off-campus addresses of students,” she said, asserting that St Joseph’s is striving to have 90% of its students live on-campus in coming years.

“I’m willing to go anywhere and meet with anyone” said Govani, who also said that Philadelphia University similarly has numerous plans in place to manage the behavior of students living off-campus. He went on to say, however, that “it is very naive to simply think that the University can reach into any off-campus community and enact leverage.”

“I find your approach slightly disappointing,” said David Bass, a member of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, echoing the sentiments of several other residents who spoke at the meeting. Bass said that he felt that the two universities were not doing enough to restrain the wild off-campus behavior of students. “I think there’s slightly more responsibility on the universities’ shoulders,” said Bass.

Both representatives said that if they were presented with specific addresses or names, they would look into the problem and attempt to solve it.

Some residents said they have tried to complain to the city’s Licenses and Inspections agency about landlords who rented to students illegally, but that the organization failed to respond to requests.

Hugh Giordano, a lifelong Roxborough resident and Philadelphia University alumnus, said that the problem was beyond regulatory agencies, the police, or the universities.

“This is much bigger than Licensing and Inspections and the police,” said the former Green Party candidate for State Representative in the 194th District. “If you stop the rentals then you’ll stop the kids coming in, and you can do that if you attract young families to move in.”

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