Incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson faced off against challenger Damon Krane in the Athens Public Library last week. Questions revolved heavily around economic concerns and infrastructure in Athens.
Mayor Patterson has done a sufficient job building a healthy relationship between the university and the city of Athens during his tenure, but Krane’s platform raises a vital concern for most students: landlords, or as he calls them, “slumlords.”
The finite amount of student housing in Athens has created a power imbalance between upperclassmen in search of housing and property owners near campus. Prices for rent can become astronomically high, and properties are often poorly maintained.
Krane is running on a platform to enforce housing code through what he called “Operation Slumlord Smackdown.” Perhaps the most important point of Krane’s plan is the possibility to implement rent control.
Rent control comes with several major hurdles in large cities like New York, but it could be the solution to Athens’ issues. The largest risk of rent control is the possibility that the landlords will simply stop renting their properties if the income falls too low. That is, however, an unlikely scenario in Athens.
The majority of residential property near campus could serve no other practical role outside student housing. With enrollment rates declining, the pressure on students to find any available housing will slowly decrease. Additionally, not many Athenians other than students will have any desire to live somewhere like Mill Street.
All landlords are currently inclined to provide monthly rent just slightly shy of the cost of on-campus housing. If they do just that, they will hold all the power. Student renters are pressured to find a place as quickly as possible, usually nearly a year in advance.
Rent control is by all means a risky policy and not a safe bet under any circumstances, but with the right people in charge and careful planning, it could provide relief. Higher education already comes at an astronomical cost, and Ohio University’s students shouldn’t be forced to live in slums that cost nearly double the fair market rent in some cases.
Patterson has been a fine mayor and should win this election, but perhaps he should find some inspiration in Krane’s message. If not rent control, at the very least, stricter code enforcement and policies could be enacted to protect renters who are largely using borrowed money.
Athens’ economic lifeblood is the student body, and if we aren’t being protected from predatory landlords and price gouging, our elected officials aren’t serving us the way they should.
There is plenty of blame to go around, from the staggering costs that come with living on campus to the literal slumlords renting homes to first-time renters, but it’s not too late to remedy the issue. The mayor and City Council should not only consider a rent control policy, but put the housing issue towards the top of their list of priorities.
Noah Wright is a junior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.