Just when you thought the corruption on public safety at the Arizona State University reached it’s zenith, here’s another story!
Apartment complexes that pay ASU
advertised as ‘Good Neighbors,’ but police
calls paint different picture.
Courtesy of the investigative journalists of the Arizona Republic,
Rob O’Dell and Anne Ryman , The Republic | azcentral.com
On Aug. 3, 2011, Arizona State University wrote to Tempe that it had “serious concerns” about student behavior at the Vue, an off-campus housing complex whose owners were seeking to build another high-rise apartment for students.
Since the Vue opened in 2009, it had been the site of multiple alcohol-related arrests, noise complaints, a raucous pool fight and eggs tossed at police from a seventh-floor balcony.
Yet at the same time ASU sent the letter, the university was accepting thousands of dollars from the Vue so the complex could participate in the school’s Be A Good Neighbor Program.
Off-campus rental properties listed as Good Neighbors receive exclusive access twice a year at campus housing fairs, a spot on the university’s website and direct-mail advertising sent by ASU to students. The more the complexes pay, the more marketing benefits they receive.
ASU’s website promotes to parents and students that rental properties in the Good Neighbor Program are “committed to initiatives that promote safety, security, and sustainability.”
But in practice, the principal requirement to receive the Good Neighbor designation is to pay ASU.
DATABASE: Look up an apartment complex
The university receives about $200,000 annually from 12 to 15 apartment complexes that participate each year. Three complexes paid nearly $100,000 over the past five years to be listed as a Good Neighbor, and 10 others paid more than $30,000.
ASU, in a statement, said the off-campus complexes are private businesses, and the university has no authority over them. ASU points to a disclaimer at the bottom of the website page, saying the university doesn’t endorse the properties. The university also has not checked for safety conditions. The owners are responsible for ensuring a safe environment, ASU said.
“What we are doing is building partnerships with them so that we can work together to solve problems and hopefully influence how they operate,” the statement said.
But critics say the Good Neighbor label is misleading.
Of the 10 top apartment complexes with the highest number of loud-party calls to Tempe police in 2013 and 2014, eight were members of the Good Neighbor Program, according to an analysis by The Arizona Republic.
Additionally, The Republic found that of the 12 apartment complexes with the most police reports in the past two years, eight belonged to the Be A Good Neighbor Program, according to police statistics for more than 80 off-campus student housing sites in Tempe.
Those reports included high numbers of police calls over the past two years for sexual assault, burglary, bicycle theft and drugs and alcohol.
All four apartment complexes with more than one reported sexual assault were Good Neighbors. In addition, eight of the top 12 complexes for reported burglaries were Good Neighbors, 10 of the top 12 complexes for reported bike thefts were Good Neighbors, and 10 of the top 12 complexes for drug and alcohol reports were Good Neighbors during the past two years.
Video of a fight at the swimming pool at the Vue in 2010. The complex is under new ownership and has a different name.
High-profile incidents at properties listed by ASU as Be A Good Neighbor include:
– ASU freshman Naomi McClendon fell to her death in 2014 at 922 Place, formerly known as the Vue.
– ASU sophomore Brady Roland was severely beaten in an elevator in 2013 at the District on Apache.
– The Tempe Fire Department refused to let its first responders enter University House, previously known as the Hub, without a police escort for part of 2013 after beer cans were thrown at first responders from the high-rise.
– Former NFL player Darren Sharper recently pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault after being accused of drugging and raping two women in 2013 at University House.
There is limited on-campus housing for anyone but freshman students. About 39,000 Tempe students live off campus.
ASU officials say the Good Neighbor Program was developed as a way to educate freshmen who were moving off campus the next year about choosing apartments. The marketing was added as a way to connect students and apartments.
“We don’t vet them,” said Kevin Cook, ASU’s associate vice president and Tempe dean of students.
“Depending on how much access you want to students, you pay a higher rate,” he said.
Cook said ASU assigns a full-time staff member to work with Good Neighbor Program properties on any issues that come up. Student-discipline problems are dealt with in “real time,” Cook said. Tempe and ASU officials have a conference call every Monday to discuss concerns that come up, he said.
ASU declined a Republic request to observe a meeting, citing federal student-privacy laws.
Both ASU and apartment owners noted that these are large complexes, which is why they have a high number of calls. But The Republic found that for some types of reports like motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assault, the larger complexes did not have the most police calls.
The university hasn’t removed a complex from the program, Cook said, because managers comply with ASU requests. For example, the owners of the high-rise University House addressed safety concerns from ASU and Tempe by closing access to all balconies this school year, ASU officials said.
The university has not threatened to remove any complex from the program, either.
“We don’t find threats to be effective means of resolving problems when we are trying to build and maintain relationships,” ASU said in a statement.
Some parents, students and Tempe residents told The Republic they find the Good Neighbor moniker ironic, considering the main requirement to be in the program is paying money to ASU.
“I’m not really sure how it’s a good neighbor,” Tempe City Councilman Kolby Granville said. “If you pay to get on the list and nobody has ever gotten off the list, it sounds like a paid advertisement.”
Raining beer cans
CANS THROWN FROM BALCONIES
University House, across the street from Sun Devil Stadium, had barely opened its doors in September 2013 when police responded after beer cans were thrown off balconies.
Police were called to the complex during the first home football game after it opened. The call asked for help with multiple unwanted guests. A Tempe police officer saw several beer cans hit the sidewalk near where more than 50 people stood, a police report said.
Another police officer wrote this about the interior:
“It should be noted that the entire building was full of garbage, every floor, every hallway, every stairwell, every elevator, the pool area, the common areas; all littered with beer cans, bottles, alcohol bottles, plastic cups, and food containers.
“The entire building was a party disaster and people were running up and down stairs drinking alcohol, passing through the halls, drinking alcohol and dumping drinks left and right at the presence of Police.”
The Tempe Fire Department refused to enter University House, and some other high-rises, for a couple of weeks in 2013 without a Tempe police escort because of the beer-can throwing.
At the time, then-Assistant Tempe Fire Chief John Valenzuela called the behavior “irresponsible and unlawful” and said someone could be killed.
A year later, in September 2014, police were called to the complex again after a half dozen beer and soda cans and a pair of scissors were thrown out of a 16th-floor window. One of the cans landed within 10 yards of a man on the sidewalk below, a police report said. Police broke up a party and made arrests.
ASU junior Ethan Fichtner, who lived at University House in the 2013-14 school year, said beer cans thrown from the high-rise were an ongoing problem, even though management threatened to evict anyone who threw anything. He recalls walking by on the sidewalk one evening when a beer can landed within 20 feet of him.
The 21-year-old said ASU’s Good Neighbor Program could mislead students because they might expect one experience and end up with another.
Because of the beer-can throwing, Tempe now strongly discourages balconies for high-rise student housing along busy streets, Councilman Granville said.
Despite the high-profile incidents at the University House, statistics from Tempe police analyzed by The Republic show the property had fewer reports of loud-party calls and police incidents than other large complexes such as the District and 922 Place.
University House Communities, the parent company, required The Republic to submit questions in writing.
Spokeswoman Sharon Goldmacher said by e-mail that the company has “significantly invested in modifications to close balconies and restrict windows” in the 637-bed tower on Veterans Way. The 242-bed second tower under construction will not have balconies, she said.
University House, which has paid $55,000 since the 2012-13 school year to be listed in Be A Good Neighbor, believes ASU’s program is mutually beneficial for complexes and the university, she said.
ASU sophomore Heather Walpert likes University House. The 19-year-old has already re-signed a lease. She recommends the complex because it’s close to campus and the football stadium and because of its lively atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she said.
None of ASU’s 15 peer schools across the country appear to conduct similar programs to the Be A Good Neighbor Program, The Republic analysis found. The 15 peer schools are public universities that ASU compares itself to.
The cost to join ASU’s program is from $6,500 to $35,000 a year. More than two-thirds of the current Good Neighbor complexes are owned by out-of-state companies.
Some new complexes join the program even before opening their doors.
The highest amount is limited to a single complex that gets premier advertising placement, including a cover ad on the ASU Housing Guide. The 15 complexes that are members this year also are allowed to participate in fall and spring housing fairs on campus.
Some of the packages allow the complexes to have twice-yearly visits from Sparky, the university’s mascot.
Over the past five years, the program has generated $890,000. Yearly revenue has nearly doubled in the past five years to $212,000 this year. That’s not a lot of money considering the university had revenue of $1.8 billion last year. But the program is a source of money that the school can rely on as state funding has been repeatedly cut.
Housing experts say most large, public universities only have referral programs where apartments are listed or linked from a university’s website.
Ohio State University, the nation’s second-largest public university behind ASU, has a referral service and is one of a few with a separate vetting program that inspects private housing.
Apartment units can get from one to five “buckeyes” for safety and security. Complexes were not charged this year, the school said, but will be charged a nominal fee in the future.
In addition, the school’s undergraduate student government publishes a survey of students who live in off-campus complexes. The annual survey rates each complex in more than 40 areas, including how quickly management responds to maintenance concerns and whether students would rent from the landlord again.
“It’s holding these landlords accountable,” said Dilnavaz Cama, department manager of Ohio State’s neighborhood services and collaboration.
The University of Arizona, which is not considered an ASU peer school by the Arizona Board of Regents, has a similar, fee-based program to ASU’s called Featured Lister. But the UA states as part of its “frequently asked questions” that being a featured lister “only means that the property has paid a fee in order to reach UA students.”
“We are very transparent,” said Jennifer Hiatt, the UA’s executive director of Residence Life. “We wanted to do that from the very onset.”
The Vue, now called 922 Place, has been listed as a Good Neighbor for the past five years, paying a total of more than $70,000 to ASU.
But when developers of the Vue proposed building a new complex in 2011, which later became University House, ASU sent a letter to Tempe about student behavior at the Vue.
Steven Nielsen, ASU’s assistant vice president for University Real Estate and Development, wrote:
“We do however; have serious concerns about this developer’s past management and control of their resident population based on the experience with their property on Apache Blvd. We would like to see significant controls put in place to address student behavior and conduct, including the orientation of community amenities inward rather than on balconies adjacent to a public street.”
The Vue and University House are now owned by different companies than the company discussed in the letter.
ASU said the letter demonstrates the university is trying to influence how off-campus housing is designed and operated from the early stages.
“How would students have gained from removing the Vue from the Good Neighbor program? The owners would have found other ways to advertise, and the university would lose part of its relationship with the owners, which is ASU’s only means of influence,” ASU’s statement said.
The highest-profile incident at 922 Place happened in 2014, when 18-year-old Naomi McClendon, who was visiting the complex, fell from a balcony on the 10th floor and died. Tests showed alcohol and drugs were a factor.
There have been other serious incidents there.
Tempe police investigated five sexual-assault reports at 922 Place in 2013, the highest number reported for the more than 80 complexes examined by The Republic. That was more than were reported to Tempe police at any other complex in two years.
American Campus Communities, which has owned 922 Place since September 2012, required The Republic to submit questions in writing. Regional Manager Michael Polzin said in an e-mail that the complex conducts a safety-awareness program with ASU that includes topics such as alcohol abuse, personal safety and sexual assault.
Management and staff make nightly rounds to address noise and guest violations, he said, adding that calls to Tempe police have decreased by 44 percent since 2012. Data analyzed by The Republic also showed calls to police dropped significantly between 2013 and 2014.
“While we have made significant progress on this front, we always strive to continually improve our customers’ experience so they have the best opportunity for academic success,” he said in an e-mail.
Several ASU students interviewed by The Republic say the conditions at the complex have improved under the new management and they enjoy living there.
But ASU junior Tyler Somers left 922 Place in January before his lease expired. He was sleeping weekend nights on a friend’s sofa at another complex because of the party atmosphere and noise.
One day, the 20-year-old engineering major said he opened a bathroom door after a party and found feces smeared everywhere, including the mirror.
His father, Scott Somers, believes ASU should take a more active role in the facilities where students stay, even though they are off campus.
ASU should “have a say in the management of the facility to ensure it is conducive to learning,” he said.
Police calls to off-campus student housing complexes in Tempe
The high-rises emerged as a way to keep more students from moving into residential neighborhoods in Tempe. Residents often complained about students’ non-stop partying and leaving trash on their lawns.
Many of the high-rises are right across the street from campus.
The same phenomenon is happening at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Three high-rises there, the Hub, Next and Level, were built just off campus a few years ago as a way to counter what Tucson residents call “mini-dorms” that many residents contend are killing the quality of life in neighborhoods around the UA.
“I’m not sure we’ve solved the problem, we’ve just relocated it,” said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents much of the area around campus.
The biggest challenge is that many of the high-rises in Tucson are owned by large nationwide companies that had not been responsive to incidents, Kozachik said.
In November, bottles and other objects were thrown off the upper-floor balconies of the high-rise complexes, which are next door to the Islamic Center.
Kozachik said the owners became engaged after the issue was publicized in the media and the complexes were informed about potential liability for the incidents in meetings with the Tucson city attorney.
He wants to see existing balconies enclosed and balconies on new buildings face the interior of the complex instead of the street.
“Kids were getting loaded and throwing whiskey bottles and other stuff at the Islamic Center,” Kozachik said. “I don’t want to wait for someone to get killed.”
Scott Stager, vice president of property operations at the company that owns the Hub, said its property had only one instance of a non-resident throwing objects off balconies, adding that the property works well with the UA and Tucson. Stager said he disagreed that the complex has not been responsive to concerns from the city and the university.
The three complexes are situated next to each other and cameras were installed that cover all the balconies of the three buildings. The complexes now work together to identify the perpetrators any time there are reports of objects being thrown off buildings, Kozachik said. The owners of Next and Level declined to comment.
Most police calls
STUDENT BEATEN AT THE DISTRICT
The District on Apache in Tempe had been open for only a few weeks in September 2013 when it made the news.
No. 3: The District, 977 E. Apache Blvd. | 113 calls. Good Neighbor member.
(Photo: Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic)
ASU student Brady Roland wandered into an apartment, thinking it was his unit and refused to leave, witnesses told police.
Video cameras showed him being led into an elevator, where police say he was assaulted. His face was broken in eight places.
The 900-bed complex, one of the largest student housing apartments in Tempe, had the most police reports of any of the more than 80 complexes examined by The Republic. It also had the second-highest number of sexual-assault reports with four reported over two years.
The District had the highest reported number of simple assaults, and its 47 reports of criminal damage over two years was double the next-highest complex.
Memphis-based EdR, which owns the District, took over ownership in September 2014, said Susan Jennings, vice president of corporate communication for EdR.
“Typically it can take a year to bring a community up to our standards,” Jennings said. “We have a deliberate plan.”
Management of the District met with Tempe police in October, she said, and again a few weeks ago to talk about the number of police calls at the District.
ASU student pushed into elevator and assaulted
She said police were receptive to management’s plans. The District has made changes to limit access to the pool, stop those under 21 from drinking at the pool, and require students to come to the lobby after hours to admit guests.
Jennings said there were two weeks this school year when the District had no calls to police, which she described as a “definite step forward.”
The District has paid $44,000 to be part of the Good Neighbor Program for the past three years.
ASU junior Krishna Dasari lives at the District and feels that it’s safe. But in March, she was searching for another place.
“I didn’t like … people being drunk at midnight, breaking walls and throwing up in the hall,” Dasari said.
CALLS FOR MORE STRINGENT REQUIREMENTS
Apartment complexes that are part of the Good Neighbor Program this year set up booths over two days in March along a busy sidewalk on ASU’s Tempe campus.
Iggy Azalea’s song “Fancy” blasted through loudspeakers. Students wandered among the booths. They thumbed through color brochures of the apartment complexes that featured amenities such as free tanning (the Domain), flat-screen TVs (University House) and an outdoor large-screen TV (West Sixth).
Arizona State University held a housing fair last month for its Be A Good Neighbor Program members, which pitched their residences to potential tenants with a variety of swag.
(Photo: John Samora/ The Republic)
Swag filled the tables, many of the goodies related to drinking: bottle openers, plastic cups, sunglasses and can koozies to insulate aluminum cans.
Attractive young men and women promoted the District by handing out black tank tops.
The front of the shirts read, “Get Lucky.” The back said, “Live at the District.”
Tina George-Reyes of Tempe browsed the booths. She was looking for an apartment for her daughter, a senior considering graduate school.
She hadn’t heard of the Good Neighbor Program. But she said a university should vet complexes if they are going to put out such a list.
“If the school backs it, it just seems more legitimate,” George-Reyes said.
Freshman Kristel Sanchez of Mesa also said she had never heard of the Good Neighbor Program.
When told the main requirement to get into the program was paying a fee, Sanchez said, “That doesn’t seem right to me.”
Phil Amorosi lives a few blocks from Apache Boulevard and is chairman of a local neighborhood association. He believes a true Good Neighbor program needs more stringent requirements. He would like to see a certain ratio of staff to students.
ASU chose to put in a limited number of dorms, he said, leaving the responsibility of policing the students to the city.
“If you are going to push them onto the city, they are still your students,” he said. “They should make sure they are good neighbors.”
LOOK UP A COMPLEX
ASU Statement on Be A Good Neighbor program
STATEMENT REPRODUCED IN FULL
The program was created as a convenience to students, gathering off-campus housing information for them in one place. It also serves as a tool by which the university can build partnerships with off-campus housing communities.
We have been pleased with the marked improvement in the operations of off-campus housing communities, improvements due in part to ASU’s efforts in close collaboration with the Tempe Police.
Off-campus housing communities are private businesses. ASU has no authority over them. What we are doing is building partnerships with them so that we can work together to solve problems and hopefully influence how they operate.
It is incorrect to suggest that ASU can mandate or pressure these private businesses into doing what we want.
It is incorrect to suggest that the university is providing some form of endorsement, when we do just the opposite, stating very clearly – online, in print and verbally – that ASU does not endorse any off-campus housing unit.
Does The Arizona Republic consider it an endorsement every time it partners with a corporation or other organization?
How we did the story
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT
Reporters Rob O’Dell and Anne Ryman decided to look into off-campus housing at ASU after working on a story about ASU police in fall 2014. The reporters filed public-records requests in December for Tempe police records of crime reports and loud-party calls reported at more than 80 student apartment complexes in Tempe. The list of complexes was compiled from the ASU Off-Campus Housing Guide.
The Republic created a database based on police calls to allow readers to look up crime reports at the more than 80 complexes.
Public-records requests were filed with ASU for documents related to the Be A Good Neighbor Program for revenue generated by the program, participating complexes, agreements between the complexes and ASU and other details.
The reporters interviewed dozens of people for the story, including students, parents, ASU officials and Tempe residents. Photographer Patrick Breen spent time photographing the complexes. He previously photographed a police call to one of the complexes while on another assignment.