I have a job, I have a good credit history and I have a very good renter's reference. But last week it appeared as if I would not be welcome at the newly renovated Left Bank apartment building because I am an undergraduate. A week ago, a small ad ran in the DP inviting students to attend a free lunch given by Carl Dranoff, the developer of the Left Bank, the former GE plant at 32nd and Walnut streets. In reality, the lunch was an under-hyped grand opening to introduce members of the University community to the renovations that will create 282 luxury apartments and retail space. As I approached the site, a woman hawking the virtues of the place politely asked if I was a student at Penn. I acknowledged my status as a tuition-payer. "Are you a grad or undergrad?" she asked with a perk. That was the first sign that there was again no such thing as a free lunch. When Dranoff ran the ad welcoming "everyone at Penn to join us," I thought it truly meant everyone. However, it seems Dranoff has a different definition of "everyone" than you and I do. It turns out that the former GE building's renovations weren't intended for everyone. In fact, it appears that the "everyone" that Dranoff meant is only graduate students and young professionals. Looking for answers on why undergraduates were not worthy to live in luxury, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paula Barren, the leasing director of the Left Bank. Tthe policy is simple: Dranoff Properties does not accept co-signers, which in her view disqualifies any undergraduate. I pressed the policy by providing the example of a young entrepreneur or a beneficiary of a trust fund -- certainly no stranger to Penn's campus --that perhaps would not need a co-signer. She replied that she really didn't think that a student could qualify for a lease, but that she would -- reluctantly, it seemed -- review every applicant. Then came the ringer: "Regardless, you see, we really don't want undergraduates," she said. In other words, undergrads need not apply. Then she told me exactly why Dranoff had this policy: "You see, we are trying to create a OCambridge-esque' environment, and undergraduates would not be conducive to creating that kind of residential environment." This is where things start to stink. What's more "Cambridge-esque" than undergraduates? This seemed like a clear case of discrimination to me. So I called Alan Lerner, a professor at the Law School who specializes in cases of employment discrimination. To my chagrin, it turns out that Dranoff is entirely within its legal rights as a landlord. Discrimination is legal in this country, Lerner said, just as long as one does not discriminate against certain protected classes, i.e., on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality or age. Students, of any kind, do not fall into any of these protected classes and therefore can be discriminated against in housing. So legally, there is nothing one can do to prevent Dranoff from not leasing apartments to undergraduates and in doing so creating "whatever-esque" environment in the Left Bank. Nonetheless, we would expect the University to value its ethics as highly as it does this law. After my initial inquiries into the validity of the no undergraduate policy, it seems that Dranoff has chosen to redefine its policy. Officials now say they originally had the "no undergraduate" policy because they thought undergraduates would not be able to meet the stringent criteria of providing proof of credit and income and a previous landlord verification. However, Dranoff and Penn officials said, the apartments are now open to anyone that fits their criteria. Barren, who just a week ago found it "difficult" to believe that an undergraduate could qualify for Dranoff's apartments, now admits that a few undergraduates have lived in the Left Bank's sister property, Locust on the Park. It's hard to believe that Dranoff's quick change means undergrads will be any more welcome in its buildings. And more importantly, we have to see this as a sign of the possible dangers Penn faces in its dealings with outside corporations who see undergraduate students as a liability instead of an asset. Ideally, Penn will always have the best interests of all members of the University in mind when it makes those decisions and, in doing so, avoid discrimination -- legal or not -- against those it intends to serve.Comments powered by Disqus
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