‘Unconstitutional’ Narragansett housing ordinance repealed in August

On Aug. 21 the Narragansett Town Council voted 5-0 to appeal the four-unrelated housing ordinance that was established in May 2016.

The ordinance was designed to limit four unrelated persons per household to control the volume of guests and their parties. It would mainly target university students living “down the line” in off-campus housing. It was originally approved because of the Eastward Look incident in May 2014 where a college day party grew out of control.

Susan Cicilline-Buonanno, president of the Narragansett Town Council, said that the ordinance originally intended to “help the quality of life for residents,” including both University of Rhode Island students and Narragansett town residents.  

“It is not in any way to prohibit students from living in the town,” she said.

Other areas in the state like Providence and Newport are trying to reinforce living conditions because they have a large number of college students living off-campus in residential areas.  The city of Providence passed a similar ordinance in 2016 but cut the number of unrelated people per household to three in the areas surrounding Rhode Island College and Providence College.  It is unknown if students of universities in the Newport area have dealt with similar living conditions.

According to Housing and Residential Life, as of last year, roughly 6,200 students lived on-campus within 21 undergraduate residence halls out of a total of 14,680 undergraduate students.  The other 8,480 students either commuted from home or lived off-campus with several other roommates, most likely unrelated, in Eastward Look, Bonnet Shores, Narragansett, and other residential areas in neighboring South Kingstown. The decision to live off-campus is mainly for economical purposes, but also due to the lack of availability for on-campus housing.  The university is aware of this and offers financial aid in the form of loans to supply students with off-campus housing.

In March 2016, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island stated in a letter written to the Narragansett Town Council that the ordinance was “unconstitutional” and would not be a productive proposal.

“Rather than help reduce town-university divisions, we believe it only exacerbates them,” the letter stated. Forcing students to find other housing options would create tension between the university and town relations, disrupting the peace further between the two, it continued.

Students who are considering living off-campus are worried that the ordinance would make housing just as expensive as living on-campus.  Sophomore Frankie Hembury is living in the dorms this year, but will be living down the line for the next academic year.  Hembury saw the issue from an economic stance as opposed to the popular opinion of a social perspective.

“It would’ve been a negative effect to cut the number of people living in the house to four because the less people there are, the higher the rent per person,” Hembury said.  “Living with more people makes the rent more doable.”

While proposing the ordinance, the town council notes they executed it in a proper manner.

“The town did a good job with the students to figure it out,” Cicilline-Buonanno said of the students’ housing situations.  “It gave them plenty time to find alternate housing plans.  Hopefully this will encourage URI to have more housing options on campus.”

The town council president also said that freshmen and sophomores should be required to live on campus in the near future because it would be an added help for the quality of life for both students and the town residents.

“We are a college community,” Cicilline-Buonanno said.  “We have positive working relationships with the university to make sure everyone feels responsible for the community.”

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Kerri Tallman
Overachiever and overtired. Former architecture student, current senior double major in Journalism and Communication Studies. A true Rhode Islandah, she’s lived all over the state and knows the best chowdah in town.