Town/Gown: Olympia struggles with student influx

By Kyle Heck
July 19, 2013

Vi Hendley has lived in Olympia for 30 years. She was around when Olympia and Granby mills were up and running, and she was around when they closed in 1996.

Vi Hendey
Vi Hendley says USC students living in Olympia have become increasingly more inconsiderate. She’s especially concerned about the fire-damaged home next to hers that is being repaired but that she says had too many people living in it.

And she has been around as more college students, most from the nearby University of South Carolina, have moved into the neighborhood just south of campus. Part of the influx has come with the conversion of those old mills into primarily student apartments.

Students have long been a part of Olympia. But Hendley says that increasingly they have been inconsiderate to their neighbors – things like loud noise or trash strewn across yards and streets.

“My husband and I have decided we are done,” Hendley said. “We are going to utilize every law and every regulation to address this.”

The Rev. Andrew Isenhower at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Olympia says more people are coming to him with complaints about college students.

“There seems to be more and more students who don’t really take into account the other people who live around them,” Isenhower said. “They don’t understand that their neighbors probably have a very different daily routine than the students.”

Jami Campbell, USC’s assistant director of off-campus student services, said she receives complaints about students at least a couple of times a month from neighborhoods around campus, though Olympia hasn’t been one of them.

Campbell says that’s “more frequently than I would like” but that her office can’t do much except refer those complaining to the Columbia or Richland County zoning offices.

Hendley’s main source of problems has been a house next door that is rented out to students. She says at least four or five lived there, before a fire severely damaged the house in December.

The two-story, 4,000-square-foot house once was a boarding house for mill workers. Construction crews are busy repairing it.

The Rev. Andrew Isenhower
The Rev. Andrew Isenhower says he gets more complaints about students but that Olympia residents also know they are important to the neighborhood’s vitality.

Owner David Welsford said he buys rundown houses in Olympia and fixes them, and he said he was doing a good thing for the neighborhood when he bought the place. Welsford, a USC graduate, said he plans to have the house renovated and ready for more students come August.

Although Olympia is surrounded by Columbia, it is a “doughnut hole,” an unincorporated area that remains part of Richland County. Hendley said she thinks the house has been overlooked because the county does not have enough inspectors to enforce its rule that no more than three unrelated people can live in the same house.

Three people work in the county’s Unsafe Housing Division, Director Kecia Lara said. On the other hand, Columbia’s zoning office has eight employees to handle such cases, said Brian Cook, the city’s zoning administrator.

Welsford says more than three people can live in the house because it is qualified as a boarding house.

Hendley says she just wants more respect from renters and landlords. And she has no intention of moving.

“There is no reason why I should leave a home and a community that I love and have invested time and energy in due to the disrespect of renters and landlords,” Hendley said. “So I will fight until I don’t have much more left.”

Listen as Hendley describes how she says her family and property are being hurt.
Hear what Isenhower has to say about the town-gown relationship.
Listen as Isenhower describes why the “lint heads” know younger residents are important to Olympia.


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