Residents surrounding Mercyhurst University addressed Erie City Council Thursday night regarding students living off campus.
Problems concerning students living off campus have been brought up to the Council multiple times over the past 10 years.
Complaints included underage drinking, loud music, flashing, public urination, increased traffic, zoning, parking, littering and condition of houses.
Many Erie residents, like Erie City Controller Cas Kwitowski, said they have been living near the university long before off-campus housing was a problem or safety was an issue.
While some problems stem from a lack of respect for neighbors, others are caused by a disregard to the law. That includes landlords who are ignoring zoning laws which only allow three unrelated people per rental and students who are ignoring laws such as underage drinking and public indecency.
“I think we just need to enforce the laws that are out there,” City Councilman Dave Brennan said.
Chief of Police & Safety Robert Kuhn agrees with Brennan, stating, “If they crack down on code violations, could probably cut down on some of this.”
Kwitowski added that students also need to take responsibility for their actions.
“This is a residential area and they need to act like adults,” said Kwitowski. “All we ask is take the parties inside and be respectful.”
An additional problem residents brought before the Council was the number of complaints that never make it through the system.
“I will testify to the fact that [there are] very little complaints,” said Councilman Robert Merski, who lives in the neighborhood near campus. “Somewhere in the system, it is breaking down.”
Residents placed some blame on Mercyhurst for accepting more students than can be housed on campus and that Police & Safety need to monitor off-campus housing as well.
Associate Director of Public Relations Debbie Morton and Associate Vice President for Student Life Laura Zirkle were at the City Council session with Kuhn.
“I think that we’ve made huge improvements in the relationship with our students and off-campus neighbors,” said Zirkle. “I think our (students) are much more aware of living in the community and being in the neighborhood.”
Zirkle explained, however, that many of students living off campus have a good relationship with their neighbors, but there are some who ruin it for the rest.
Kuhn explained that Police & Safety remained unarmed, per the college’s orders, and that Mercyhurst officers do not have jurisdiction with matters off campus. Erie Police are hired, however, during weekends that large parties are expected.
“We’re doing the best that we can,” Kuhn said.
Merski acknowledged the work the university has done so far.
“Mercyhurst have gone above and beyond . . .I know you try to make every effort,” said Merski. “I want the community aware that we do have a good working relationship.”
Merski has already begun looking at solutions in other municipalities across Pennsylvania.
Finding solutions to the problems concerning Mercyhurst’s off-campus students will continue to be examined by City Council.
It’s a problem that never really ends,” said Zirkle. “We have new students every year.It will always be an ongoing issue that we just need to be diligent about.”