University area residents advocate to ‘Stop Doubles to Dorms’

Ashley+Chen+%7C+Art+Director

Ashley Chen | Art Director

Gabby Abrams, News Editor

Since this summer, long-term residents of the university area have placed red and white yard signs reading “STOP DOUBLES TO DORMS” on their lawns. This phrase, shortened to D2D, refers to the growing trend of converting single family homes into what the organization refers to as “fancy mini-dorms.” 

Essentially, developers, many of whom are based out-of-state, purchase family homes and add units and bedrooms for the purpose of renting to Tulane and Loyola students. 

Neighborhood organizations, Maple Area Residents Inc and Carrollton Avenue Network, as well as other neighbors are not pleased by these changing demographics and are working to do their part in reversing this trend. 

Jill and Grady Fitzpatrick are two of these neighbors advocating for a change. The couple, along with their two tween children, have been residents on Audubon Street for nine years. During that time, they have seen fellow families with young children move out of the neighborhood due to student behavior. 

“My kids could tell you a lot of stories of things that they’ve seen, and we kind of laugh about it, but I’m like, ‘This is not normal,’” Jill said. 

The Fitzpatricks, along with neighbors and long-time residents Ken and Diane Gelpi and Lee Barba have similar grievances surrounding the noise, trash, lack of parking, and issues with sewage and water lines caused by an influx of Tulane students to the neighborhood. 

“Some years are better than others,” Diane said, in terms of student noise and behavior. “This year has been particularly bad.” 

The neighbors described a significant amount of partying recently, despite Dean of Students Erica Woodley mandating that students not host or attend gatherings of more than 15 people both on and off campus. 

“We call Tulane officers a lot,” Jill said. “We are very tolerant but at some points on a Wednesday night, my kids will come downstairs and say that they can’t sleep because of the bass next door.” 

D2D organizers identify Amicus Properties as one of the main developers in these family home to mini-dorm conversions. Ten of the 15 properties that D2D has identified are owned by Amicus.  

Co-Founder of Amicus Properties Austin Brooks began the company with a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, with the intention of improving the quality of housing for university students. They began with properties around the University of Charleston and have since expanded to New Orleans, Louisiana; Savannah, Georgia and Providence, Rhode Island. 

Brooks was surprised by the pushback he experienced from New Orleans residents as Amicus’ work was “celebrated by the neighborhoods in Charleston and Savannah because we were taking houses that were really falling apart and bringing life to them.” 

One of Amicus’ recent projects at 1409 Broadway came under fire for violating city zoning ordinances. 

Ken and the Fitzpatricks submitted letters to the Board of Zoning Adjustments to advocate on behalf of revoking Amicus’ permit to develop the Broadway property. Jill and Grady Fitzpatrick said that “the permit for this property should never have been approved.” 

They cite unlawful structural expansion of a property designated for nonconforming use as well as a lack of Certificate of Appropriateness in their letter. They additionally state that the house does not fit into the Future Land Use plan as Residential Single-Family Pre-War Goal. 

The property’s building permit was revoked by the city on Aug. 10. 

Brooks said that they are currently in the process of appealing the city’s decision saying that his plans had been “permitted by the city, and we did exactly as we said.” 

The New Orleans City Council also voted on Aug. 6 to maintain a residential expansion ban around Tulane University. 

Brooks believes that student voices are underrepresented in these neighborhood disputes. 

“I think what these neighbors need to understand is that students are residents of the neighborhood too, and it’s not fair to say that they aren’t allowed to live in the neighborhood, and/or we’re not allowed to have houses students can live in,” Brooks said. “That in my opinion is discrimination.” 

There are many other developers and landlords in a similar position as Amicus, who rent and develop houses for Tulane students. 

One of these people is Danny Heidenberg, who began the Heidenberg Group as an undergraduate. He is an alumnus of Tulane as a member of the Class of 2013, as well as the university’s school of medicine in the Class of 2017. Heidenberg had personal experiences with New Orleans landlords and knew that he could help provide a better service to Tulane students. He began his company in his senior year as an undergraduate and bought his first property in his first year of medical school. 

“I never wanted to start my company as a way of having a diametric opposition to the local New Orleanians in the Uptown area who I felt that I was one of,” Heidenberg said. 

Although currently living in Washington D.C. for his residency, Heidenberg feels connected to New Orleans and hopes to return there in the future. 

“New Orleans is extremely important to me, so when I saw this movement [D2D], I actually supported it quite a bit,” Heidenberg said. 

Similarly, Brooks hopes that “over time we can try to bring that relationship back with the neighbors, and hopefully they can see that what we’re doing for the neighborhood is actually a good thing.” 

As for now, D2D is continuing their work and hopes that Tulane will play a more active role in assisting the neighborhood in which they are located. 

“[Tulane has] been largely hands off,” Jill said. 

The neighbors shared sentiments that Tulane should hold its off-campus students accountable for their actions. They also suggested that Tulane clean up Broadway Street.

“At the end of the semester, it would probably go a long way to have a truck drive around and pick up the trash, abandoned couches and things,” Lee said. 

The neighbors also made clear that they all have connections to the university and generally enjoy living around students. 

“We live here because of the students,” Ken said. “We like having the students.” 

Jill asserted that her intentions in advocating to stop D2D comes from a place of love for New Orleans and its neighborhoods. 

“New Orleans neighborhoods are absolutely what make the city,” Jill said. “It’s why we live here. They’re diverse, people have lived here forever, they’re full of characters. To watch that erode is really really sad. And you can’t get that back once it’s gone.”

Fitzpatrick is referring to the structural changes from developers that cause family homes to irreversibly be turned into student housing. 

“It’s almost like a dorm suite situation,” Ken said. “You take out any sort of communal living space in a house to turn that into a bedroom so it’s really just a group of bedrooms around maybe a kitchen.”

The neighbors note that this development trend has been creeping for years. It has recently reached a new extreme level, however, with developers calling families who don’t have their house on the market and offering cash above the asking price. This is another draw for young families to move elsewhere. 

“There has been this shift where the balance has gotten out of whack,” Ken said. “The neighborhood is no longer a neighborhood, it’s turning into apartments, one big apartment complex.”

They hope that Tulane students and developers will respect the historic New Orleans neighborhood that they live in going forward. 

“I think the students need to recognize that you want to have the character of the city that’s why you came here but to have fun for a semester or two you’re kind of destroying it,” Ken said.