Lehigh off-campus housing options in South Bethlehem. There will be new restrictions on student occupancies in the zones created by the South Bethlehem Housing ordinance. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Proposed ordinance would limit student living on the South Side

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Lehigh students would face restricted off-campus living options following the proposal of the South Bethlehem Housing ordinance. 

The ordinance, which was proposed in August, creates zones for off-campus student living and limits the number of residents living in each unit. 

The plan lays out maximum occupancies for each zone listed, mandating that five, three, or two college students can occupy a single home, depending on the zone in which it resides. 

James Byszewski, managing partner at Fifth Street Capital Partners, said he is pushing against the ordinance because it not only limits the density of students inside the housing zone, but also prevents students from living outside the zone.

“If you say the students can’t live in houses outside the zone you have to give them an incentive to live inside the zone and build more bedrooms to allow more students to live inside of it,” he said. “Yet the ordinance has density restrictions and the reality is that this is a fundamental flaw.”

Byszewski said South Side residents are pushing for the ordinance to be passed because off-campus student living has caused an affordable housing issue for longterm Bethlehem residents. 

“I think people don’t understand economics and how it works,” he said. “Some people are trying to keep the prices down under the guise of affordable housing, but I think demand for property is a good thing, it’s good for the South Side economically.”

Lifestyle differences are another reason local residents are in favor of the ordinance.  

“Residents are also saying that their lifestyles conflict with students,” he said. “They are raising families here and they say the college students are constantly having parties and creating noise.”

Byszewski, who owns properties that will potentially be affected, said this ordinance is disincentivizing off-campus living which will cause problems for local businesses and landlords that primarily lease to students. 

“If you push kids out of off-campus housing, then kids will be living on campus with their meal plan and all of a sudden that customer is no longer using the South Side to buy sandwiches and coffee daily, and that economic driver no longer occurs,” he said. 

Mariah Langlois ‘22, is living off-campus this year. She agreed with Byszewski and said she believes the housing ordinance seems unfair since Lehigh students benefit the South Side community economically. 

“I think we benefit the community by creating a lot of revenue for restaurants and local shops,” she said. “Without the students, South Side businesses would struggle so I don’t understand why residents wouldn’t be happy with students living off campus and stimulating that.”

Ida Kelenski, a landlord in South Bethlehem who rents primarily to Lehigh students said that while the ordinance will not affect her properties, she feels as if it makes sense to regulate housing since the options for student leasing keep getting further from campus.

“On one hand I say it’s not fair to regulate student housing, but on the other hand it makes sense,” she said. “Over the past two years or so, everything (around) campus has turned into student housing and I don’t think students even want to live five or six blocks away from campus.”

Langlois says students should continue to express their concerns to the Bethlehem City Council. 

The ordinance is currently in a draft phase and has not yet been passed. 

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