September 8, 2004

Student Leaders Meet to Discuss Housing Concerns

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In the aftermath of the arrest of landlord David Church for secretly videotaping his female tenants, five student leaders gathered outside of the Schwartz Performing Arts Center yesterday to discuss several proposals to reshape how students find off-campus apartments in Ithaca’s rental housing market.

Offering a proposal to put Cornell students in City Hall, Ithaca Common Council member Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) said that more paid work-study jobs for students are needed to put public records from the Planning Department and Housing Department on the Internet.

“There is no better time to address off-campus housing,” said student-elected trustee Jacqueline Koppell ’05. She added that in addition to concerns of late about cameras and the “Collegetown Creeper,” who has frightened sleeping female students in at least 15 incidents since September 2003, there are long-standing issues with poor heating, termites and run-down properties.

Koppell also proposed a student housing board which would circulate the Student Assembly-drafted Collegetown Bill of Rights, conduct surveys of students living off campus and make the information available on the Internet.

Last year, 44 Cornell students worked with the City of Ithaca, and Townsend says many more would be needed to build an online database where students could find information about landlords’ property, upkeep and compliance records.

Despite his prior criminal record, however, David Church’s records with the City of Ithaca’s housing department were in perfect order. A former tenant reported that Church was obsessive about keeping his houses in top shape.

Approximately 75 percent of work-study funds for the students working downtown comes from the federal government, with the rest coming from the City of Ithaca, according to Townsend. But with budget shortfalls at the city level, other sources of funding will need to be found if more positions are to be made available.

The S.A. will examine whether it is possible to provide financial support for Townsend’s proposal, according to Josh Bronstein ’05, vice president for finance.

“We’re reaching out to all parts of the community to look at what can be done,” said Thomas W. Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations. “This kind of energy is going to help enormously.”

Except for a forensics examination of computer hard drives seized in Church’s apartment, which should take only a few more weeks, the investigation into the Church case is nearly complete, according to Lt. Timothy Williams of the Ithaca Police Department. “We have not identified any more victims,” he said.

Through the Students Helping Students group, former tenants of Church received $7,400 to help them find a new place to live.

The Ithaca Police have also stepped up enforcement in the Collegetown area, hoping to catch the Collegetown creeper. Plainclothes officers are also on the street.

“Hopefully we’ll have good results,” Williams said. Students should lock their doors and windows, he said, and if an incident occurs the police should be called immediately.

Others at the gathering included event-organizer and alderperson Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th ward), SA president Erica Kagan ’05, officers from the Ithaca Police Department and the Cornell University Police, as well as alderpersons Joel Zumoff MS ’70 (D-3rd ward) and Maria Coles (D-1st ward).

Archived article by Peter Norlander
Sun Senior Editor