SOU Students Speak Out for Fair Housing

3-11-sou-fair-housingASHLAND, Ore. – Three years ago, AJ Herlitz began what turned out to be a near-impossible apartment search. His first dozen calls all yielded the same response.

“They automatically said ‘we don’t rent to college kids, especially male,’” said Herlitz.

A survey performed last year by The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU) and the Ashland Housing Commission found that 67% of students felt they were denied housing for the exact same reason.

“Because students aren’t a protected class and age isn’t a protected class, they can say we just don’t rent to students,” said Louise Dix, an education and outreach specialist for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.

Cities like Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, and Salem have already moved to address the issue — making it illegal to discriminate based on age and occupation. But no such protections exist in Ashland.

And one local property manager says nearly half of the owners she works with take advantage of that fact.

“It’s the behavior that landlords are concerned about,” said Laurel Young-Adams, owner of AllCities Property Management. “It’s not necessarily the behavior of the tenants that we rent to, it’s the behavior of those that they come into contact with.”

That fear has led to more than just denying applications. Property managers say owners have resorted to intimidation and other illegal practices.

“They do things like harass them or go check on them or knock on their door, say ‘oh how’s everything, just checking to make sure everything’s okay.’ that is not landlord-tenant law,” said Young-Adams.

Ashland administrators say the city has discussed the possibility of changing its laws to make discrimination based on age and occupation illegal. But they say there hasn’t been consistent advocacy on behalf of the students. Those students who speak out eventually graduate and often leave the area.

But students say unless the law is changed, it could drive young people away.

“They’re going freak out and say, ‘well I have nowhere to live… I could go to Corvallis, or I could go to Eugene where it’s much more college friendly,” said Herlitz.

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