A neighborhood association for students?

Raga Justin of the Daily Texan reports on some students who want to start a neighborhood association geared towards renters and students:

Runas, an electrical and computer engineering senior, is currently in the process of organizing a West Campus neighborhood association. She said she was spurred to begin a resident-driven housing authority for the neighborhood to tackle some of the issues she’s seen in her last two years of living there, as well as to promote underrepresented voices in the area.

“A lot of people in our neighborhood are renters and young,” Runas said. “I’m trying to make sure they’re not being taken advantage of and that they know the resources that are available to them.”

Runas said sidewalk accessibility is the main priority, with many cracked and uneven or too narrow and dangerous to walk on. She also wants to be able to enforce tenants’ rights as well as see tangible progress on the West Campus lighting survey. The survey studies where lighting should be added in West Campus.

I definitely appreciate the sentiment. Renters, particularly students, are dramatically underrepresented in Central Austin neighborhood associations. It was just recently that Mary Ingle, the former head of the Austin Neighborhoods Council and current head of the North University Neighborhood Association, went to a Board of Adjustments meeting to try to prevent a single-family lot from being converted to desperately-needed student housing apartments.

But renter-driven neighborhood groups, particularly those run by students, are tough to sustain. In all likelihood, the great majority of the valiant youngsters behind this effort won’t be living in West Campus a few years from now. The membership of the group will be constantly changing, making it hard for members to develop the knowledge and connections necessary to be as influential as their elders in the conventional neighborhood associations.

A decade ago, when I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a group of unusually civically-minded students reactivated a defunct neighborhood association in a student-dominated neighborhood and seceded from the stuffy umbrella neighborhood federation over disagreements about alcohol policy. Among other things, the federation endorsed a crackdown on underage drinking and an increase in the beer tax. The group’s relevance quickly faded, however, as its founders graduated and moved away. Today it doesn’t even have a website.

We’ll see if Runas and her pals can prove an exception to the rule.

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