Ross doesn#039;t want you to live with your Friends

by Beacon Staff • February 25, 2009

bAt issue:/b Councilor Michael Ross' power-tripping smackdown on college apartments.

bOur view:/b The measure is discriminatory and insulting to students, the lifeblood of Boston.

Suppose some Boston city councilor proposed to ban more than four gay people from living together, claiming that such large gatherings of gays was a public nuisance. Or imagine if a councilor proposed such a Gestapo-like imposition on the city's Jews, or such a nouveau-Jim-Crow decree on Boston's blacks.

There would be national upheaval, and our hypothetical anti-Harvey Milk would probably lose his council seat. Fortunately for him, Michael Ross, the new president of Boston's City Council, picked a less organized scapegoat: college students.

Blaming everything from public disturbances to rising rents on college students, he ushered a city ordinance through the council in 2008 aimed at limiting the number of college students living together to four.

The order was met with a resounding "Meh" from police and landlords, who recognized it as an unenforceable joke. The city's Inspectional Services agency has already declared that Ross' bill violates federal law.

Undeterred, Ross is now proposing the council force colleges to report the addresses of their off-campus students to the city so it can prosecute students living in groups of five or more. Emerson rightly opposes the motion. In an impressive display of civil disobedience, Emerson's vice president of public affairs, David Rosen, said the college would not turn over off-campus students' addresses unless ordered by a judge.

Here's the real problem: Everyone Mike Ross' proposal would affect has bigger fish to fry. College students are hunting for jobs in a shrinking market (and looking to save money by splitting rent many ways); police and inspections officers are fighting real crime; landlords are trying to stay afloat as the national housing bubble pops. Eliminating five-student living arrangements won't solve any of those problems, and would probably make it more difficult for students and landlords to deal with the recession.

Further, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, and nobody's jumping to defend Ross' loony legislation in front of a judge.

If the council president is serious about his cap on coed cohabitation, history provides a number of examples from effective tyrants. For instance, forget forcing colleges to report off-campus students' addresses. Hitler had Warsaw's Jews wear armbands for easy identification by the SS. Tattoos were effective, too. Perhaps college students could wear armbands with a symbol like John Belushi or a Bud Light can to distinguish them from the upright, non-university citizens of Boston.

Why stop there? Chairman Mao solved his problems with troublesome, "liberal bourgeois" students by marching them into the countryside for propaganda re-education. Imagine: No more "Research Writing," just "Ethics in Boston Politics" with Ross' colleague, disgraced City Councilor Chuck Turner.

Fortunately, Ross lacks a fraction of the dictatorial power of those tyrants. In Boston, the city council has little real authority. But Ross' crusade to hassle college kids is just the latest counterproductive town-gown rift in Boston. Colleges and their students, while doing much to foster resentment, also make invaluable, underappreciated contributions to this city's economy and prestige. And blaming high rent prices on them is a cop-out; the key to keeping rents down is to commit to building affordable public housing.

For the record, Mike Ross isn't really a fascist. He's a pandering politician trying to score easy points by using government to pick on a defenseless group of people often blamed for problems they didn't cause.

He's not a fascist, he's just a Boston City Councilor.,iBeacon/i Editorial Board