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Who else lives in the student ghetto?

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By KEVIN FUREY

2/26/16

 

It’s just past 2 a.m., but all is not quiet at the home where Laurie, a resident of Pine Hills, has lived since 1993. Rowdy students are making their way between bars and house parties, walking down North Lake Avenue right past her home.

It’s common to hear students screaming late at night or urinating in the alleyways between houses, according to Laurie. Even the destruction of property and vehicles is not unheard of.

Laurie, who is originally from the New York City area, attended the University at Albany from 1985 until 1990. She never moved back downstate.

“I liked the city,” Laurie said.

Once considered a retreat for Albany’s elite and wealthy, Pine Hills has had many faces over the years. Although many permanent residents would agree that year-to-year the neighborhood doesn’t change much, within the last 40 years students have shifted the demographics of Pine Hills. Some of the permanent residents recall a Pine Hills that was not referred to as the “student ghetto.”

Even though the student population in Pine Hills is high, many non-students live there as well. Roughly 31 percent of those who live in Pine Hills are between the ages of 20 and 24, which is the largest age demographic in the neighborhood, according to AreaVibes, a website that gives locations “liveability scores.” Many older, long-term residents live in the neighborhood as well.

Today, Pine Hills is lined with deteriorating historic row homes, many dating back to the late 19th century. The streets are anything but quiet. The vibrations of EDM music can often be heard thumping out of basements where illegal underground parties frequently take place. Broken beer bottles litter the sidewalks and dirty sneakers hang from the telephone wires.

Many home owners have seen their Pine Hills homes depreciate in value, so they can’t afford to leave and end up feeling trapped. Carolyn Keefe, president of the Pine Hills Improvement Group, noted that as more permanent residents age and die, their homes are often sold to people interested in renting to students, which reduces the number of permanent residents.

Despite the loud noises, Laurie isn’t the only one who likes the neighborhood.

Virginia Hammer, president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, said she feels that many permanent residents enjoy the diversity of the neighborhood and have learned to put up with some periodic annoyances.

However, those periodic annoyances have caused tension between permanent residents and the transient student population.

Hammer said that many permanent residents stereotype all students, often viewing them in a negative light. She feels that after the “Kegs N’ Eggs” Riot in 2011, the media painted a negative image of UAlbany students, even though a small number of students were actually involved in the event.

Keefe added that the common perception of students is that they are too immature to handle the responsibilities of living on their own and that they are inexperienced in urban living.

“Many residents express that they feel like they live in the middle of an unsupervised playground,” Keefe said.

Perhaps the biggest nuisance for many permanent residents is the noise level, especially late at night. Keefe said that there seems to be a correlation between the consumption of alcohol and the level of noise. She also added that when the drinking age was raised in the 1980s the noise problem worsened, as many students were pushed out of bars and into house parties closer to the homes of permanent residents.

Many residents feel a sense of dread as late August approaches, and a sense of relief in late May, according to Keefe. The neighborhood is less vibrant when the students leave, some businesses close temporarily, and more on-street parking is available. Of course the neighborhood is much quieter, as well.

“In the summer, it’s often so quiet, we can hear birds and crickets,” Keefe said.

While some landlords take their responsibilities seriously, there’s no question that other landlords simply use their properties to make money, often taking advantage of their tenants, Keefe said.

To help handle problems within the community and to assist students who are living or plan on living off-campus, UAlbany established Neighborhood Life in August of 2014. Neighborhood Life does everything from talking with students who have been ticketed or arrested off-campus to assisting students with any problems that they have with their landlords. Prior to the establishment of Neighborhood Life, all off-campus issues were handled by the Office of Personal Safety.

According to Keefe, students began living in Pine Hills in the 1970s and 1980s, when UAlbany underwent expansion. Although she has only lived in the area since 1994, she has several neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood since before it was predominately populated by students.

Keefe, who lives near The College of Saint Rose, said that she chose to stay in Pine Hills and raise her family there because she loves her home and the convenience of its location, near many shops and businesses. She also added that she feels safe in Pine Hills.

Hammer said that although many permanent residents have built negative stereotypes of students, when they have the opportunity to interact with students in a positive way, such as during neighborhood clean-ups, their perception of students changes for the better.

Neighborhood Life manages year-round neighborhood watches, which consist partly of students and partly of permanent residents. They report noise complaints, destruction of property, building code issues, as well as any other problems in the neighborhood. One time they even assisted a disoriented elderly man who was walking around in his boxers in the middle of the winter, possibly saving his life.

While doing neighborhood watch patrols, students and residents have an opportunity to interact with one another, since they go out in groups. Any student of UAlbany or resident of Pine Hills who is interested in volunteering for neighborhood watches can. The only requirements are an application and a background check. Then there is basic training through the Neighborhood Engagement Program of the Albany Police Department.

Keefe said that she appreciates the efforts that UAlbany and the Albany Police put into managing issues between permanent residents and students. She also added that without those efforts she didn’t think her family would still be living in their home.

What Pine Hills residents such as Laurie, Hammer and Keefe want to stress to students, is that the neighborhood is not only comprised of students. Within Pine Hills there are families, senior citizens, people with special needs and people who have to wake up early in the morning.

Keefe had one final message to the students who reside in Pine Hills:

“This is your neighborhood too, so live here like you would in your family’s neighborhood, and live here like you plan to stay, maybe you will.”

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