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Bully Pulpit

Loyola College Forbids Students Who Rent Apartments At Gallagher Park From Enrolling In Classes

Frank Klein
CONDO FOR SALE OR RENT: Sylvia Wicker calls Loyola College's attempt to keep students from renting apartments at Gallagher Park "restraint of trade."

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/30/2006

Sylvia Wicker says Loyola College is a "bully." Loyola says it's just trying to protect its students from potentially dangerous housing. Students shrug.

At issue is the fate of the Gallagher Park town homes, a 45-unit bundle of secluded two-story condos with green backyards just steps from Loyola's 79-acre North Baltimore campus. In the mid-1990s students began renting the two- and three-bedroom homes while families, citing the noise and bustle of student life, began moving out. Two years ago, Loyola offered unit owners at Gallagher Park $125,000 each for their condos, explaining that it wanted to buy the housing as an alternative to building more dorms. But the Jesuit-run liberal arts college, known for its opulent student housing, also carried a stick into its negotiations: If the Gallagher owners didn't sell, the college warned, the school would build dorms and "be forced to require that all students live on campus."

Only one owner sold to Loyola.

In June Loyola's president, the Rev. Brian Linnane, sent students the news via his BlackBerry: Beginning next fall, Loyola will forbid its students to live in the Gallagher Park condos. He cited "a number of problems" with the complex, including safety and fire-code issues.

To Wicker, Loyola's behavior over the past decade amounts to blockbusting: first bring in students to drive out the homeowner-families, then cut off the students (and their rent money) to grab the houses cheap.

"It's a restraint of trade," says Wicker, who says she moved out of her two-bedroom, finished-basement unit on Tantallion Court in Gallagher Park in 2003 and moved to White Marsh in order to care for her mother. "They just decided to pick this community to blacklist."

During an evening tour of the neighborhood Wicker shows off the relatively neat and tranquil condominiums, which are across Crowson Avenue from Loyola's Aquinas Hall, Ahern Hall, and McAuley Hall, plus a transportation depot and campus security. There is also a high-rise senior apartment building on the block.

"They're building dorms right here," Wicker says, pointing to a mound of dirt a few hundred yards and around the corner from her former home, which she says she rents to four female Loyola students for $1,800 per month. Wicker says off-campus housing is a right of passage for students. "It's nice," she says of the condos. "They all get to socialize with each other. Most of the houses have decks. They all do what students do."

Those rear-yard decks, however, contribute to one of the dangers the Loyola administration says its students face. Basement windows open under the decks, leaving little or no room for a student who is sleeping there to escape in the event of a fire. "I don't know exactly when we became aware that students were living in basement apartments," says Terrence Sawyer, Loyola's vice president for administration. "We have been aware for more than four years that more than four students--sometimes more than seven--were living in some units."

Sawyer says the landlords claimed they were unaware of the crowding.

At least 16 of the 45 units are owned or controlled by Oliver Webb, who also serves as president of the condominium association. Webb's role would seem to leave him caught between the few remaining owner-occupants and his own profit motive. As a result he has little to say about the current situation. "The association is not involved in the investor process that is going on," Webb says. "I [also] represent other people that [are] still living there. As someone on the investor side, I have no comment."

Wicker says that, before she moved away three years ago, the student parties were becoming unbearable but Loyola administration did little to curb the students. "I was completely bounced out of the city," she says. "I'm not saying I wouldn't have moved anyway. But they definitely helped me to move a little quicker. It was horrible. Like living in Animal House."

Sawyer, who has dealt personally with some of Gallagher Park's remaining owner-occupants' complaints about Loyola students, says the college has gone above and beyond what is required, including punishing student rowdies under the college's code of conduct. "We've been as responsive as we can," he concludes. "It's private property."

He stresses that the college is not trying to punish Gallagher Park's owners, and has no plans to restrict students to on-campus housing.

The scene last week--before all students had moved in--appeared quiet and safe.

"It's not that bad. It depends on your landlord, I guess," says Michelle, a senior who declines to give her last name but says she lived in another Gallagher Park unit last year. She confirms the e-mail the college president sent to students. "They say that it's dangerous," she acknowledges. "Also, there's a lot of drinking and partying. They want to control us, I guess."

That seems clear from the tone of Linnane's e-mail, dated June 6. "Students living in Gallagher Park" next autumn, the e-mail says, "will not be permitted to enroll in classes at Loyola College."

The college is no longer interested in buying the condos, Sawyer says, adding that "Our feeling is that the landlords will find other people to lease those units to, and life will go on for them and life will go on for Loyola."

Wicker says that's the plan. "A lot of homeowners, what they plan on doing, is allow other students to rent," Wicker says. "Goucher has students renting in the Sheraton now."

Still, the experience with Loyola has irritated Wicker, who claims that the college's own housing options are likely not as safe as her unit. She says she feels whip-sawed by the institution that, after years of indifference to safety and noise issues in Gallagher Park, suddenly decided to use them to squeeze her income.

"I need ongoing money," says Wicker, who also works a full-time job. "Baltimore's become a college town. Why can't I, a citizen of Baltimore, profit from that?"

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