Concerned with violence near campus, Temple University has rolled out a variety of safety measures. Its latest effort, set to launch next month, is a database ranking nearby properties that scores rental units on a variety of safety measures.
The idea has been in the works since spring and is part of a multipronged approach to public safety for the Philadelphia campus, which has seen a number of violent incidents in nearby neighborhoods—including a student killed in a botched robbery last fall.
The idea, university officials say, is to help students identify and choose safe housing facilities, featuring licensed landlords and properties that show a clear commitment to public safety, while excluding unlicensed landlords.
Temple already has a website that helps students find off-campus housing, but that’s strictly a database of area housing facilities. Now the university will add a rankings component.
“Across the nation and in the city of Philadelphia violent crime is an issue, so we were thinking of ways that we could address that specifically in the community in which our students live,” said Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Temple University. “We looked across the country and saw some other schools that were doing something similar and decided that this looks like it is something we might be able to use and tailor to the needs of Temple.”
The program, which hasn’t been officially named yet, will have a tiered system rather than numeric rankings. Only properties near campus with licensed landlords will be listed, which Temple officials hope will spur unlicensed landlords in the area to acquire the proper paperwork.
“This is about making the community around Temple a cleaner, safer place for our students and for the community. If you’re not willing to do these things, good luck getting tenants,” Kaiser said.
The tiered system will be broken down at a premium and basic level, meaning the more safety features a property has, the better it will do in Temple’s ranking, which will also consider license and inspection violations. Properties also have to be within Temple’s patrol zone near campus to be in the rankings.
The tiers will likely be represented by a cherry emblem at the basic level and a diamond at the premium level, according to preliminary designs shared with Inside Higher Ed.
“We want it to be a tool for students and their families,” Kaiser said.
He anticipates some pushback from landlords but believes the bottom line—potentially lost revenue—will drive property owners to make improvements.
But landlords near campus who are excluded for not being licensed can be added if they acquire the proper paperwork and meet Temple’s standards for security features, Kaiser said. The university also offers help to the landlords who are trying to meet those standards in the form of $2,500 grants that can be used to add security features such as lights and cameras.
So far, between 20 and 25 property owners have taken Temple up on such grants. Kaiser suspects that number would be higher if more landlords in the area were properly licensed.
In launching the rankings database, Temple is drawing inspiration from the Niner Choice Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which has a similar approach.
The Niner Choice Program at UNC Charlotte is broken down into green and gold levels. To qualify for the lower green tier, landlords must meet 17 safety factors, including front doors with peepholes, working locks, sufficient lighting and commitments from owners or property managers to attend crime-prevention and safety meetings. The gold-level design requires the same 17 safety factors but adds 11 more, of which landlords must meet at least five. Additional safety features include blue light emergency phones, surveillance systems and the employment of a licensed and insured security company, to name a few examples.
The program has been in place since 2014, according to the UNC Charlotte website, which describes it as “a safety initiative designed to help students and make parents informed decisions about off-campus living options.” Still, the website notes “it is not a stamp approval or endorsement” from the university or local police and not “a guarantee of student safety.”
For Temple, the rankings database is just one of many measures that officials hope will keep students safe. Some estimates put the number of students living near Temple’s campus at around 10,000. Many live in neighborhoods where shootings and other violent crimes occur with some regularity, despite expanding patrol efforts by Temple’s police force.
Such concerns have even driven parents to hire private security to patrol areas near campus.
Despite parental concerns, some students have suggested that fears are overblown.
“Because Temple is such a large landmark, a lot of things are reported as being in Temple’s surrounding area. It’s by far a very safe school to attend,” Gianni Quattrocchi, Temple’s student body president, told Inside Higher Ed in June. Many other students echoed a similar sentiment in a university safety survey, reporting that they felt safe on campus, though less so outside Temple.
But to placate worried parents, Temple has taken several key steps, including creating and filling the new position of vice president of public safety; an audit of campus safety services; launching a Task Force on Violence Reduction, which includes faculty, staff, students, parents and community members; and deploying the RAVE Temple Guardian personal safety app, which allows students to contact campus police and offers “virtual” safe walks, among other features. The university has also embarked on an effort to hire more police officers, which are moving slowly.
Michael Rein, director of organizational management at Margolis Healy, a campus security firm, said that while colleges have much more control over their own housing facilities, they aren’t powerless when it comes to securing off-campus properties. Colleges can provide security tips to students and work with local landlords and law enforcement on common safety goals.
Rein added that students also must make efforts to keep themselves safe.
“I think it’s important for students to recognize that off-campus housing is not a utopia, meaning that the same safety precautions they would take at their home or in on-campus housing that would still be appropriate in that context,” Rein said. “That means working collectively with their housemates, their landlords, their neighbors, to provide for the safest environment they can.”
At Temple, Kaiser calls student safety “the No. 1 priority.” He’s optimism about the overall changes made and the potential the rankings database has not only to improve safety near campus but also to build a better community around Temple as neighbors come together.
“I really do believe [the rankings database] will have a very positive effect on the safety and the quality of the units in the community, as well as help with community relations,” Kaiser said.