Database Plan Aimed at Enabling Reviews of Landlords

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A Penn State student group is planning an interactive, web-based database of State College landlords and apartment reviews — a resource that should reward responsible property owners and hold others accountable, organizers said this week.

They said the new group, Project Blue Pill, has already secured support from Information Technology Services, a university department that will pay two interns and help guide them in developing a website this summer. ITS may also provide a web server for the project, said sophomore Will Sheehan, the Project Blue Pill CEO.

Student organizers hope to have a thorough, searchable list of local landlords and properties available online by the fall, with user-submitted reviews to follow by fall 2011, Sheehan said. He said only Penn State students with active online-user accounts will be able to post reviews.

“We want to put control back with the consumer, with the students,” Sheehan said. ” … We want to reward the landlords who do a great job by keeping their properties up to date, keeping maintenance where it should be. And we want to give students who are looking for off-campus housing some reviews and comments before they sign a binding lease.”

Funding for project, known as Tenant Review of Landlord, or TRL, is still in the works. Sheehan said the leaders of Project Blue Pill — all members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity — will ask Beta alumni for support and seek other sources, including through the Smeal College of Business.

“We realize this will be pretty pricey,” Sheehan said, though an exact price tag is not yet available. For now, he said, ITS will cover the labor cost of the interns.

TRL is a top priority for Project Blue Pill, founded recently by undergraduate David Adewumi. A graduate of State College Area High School, Adewumi lost his bid this spring for the University Park Undergraduate Association presidency.

But Adewumi has said the loss won’t sideline the ideas that he campaigned on, including improved accountability for local landlords. He envisions Project Blue Pill as a local policy think-tank that will collaborate with other student organizations, including the undergraduate association and the Off-Campus Student Union, or OCSU.

Bobby Ryan, the OCSU president, said he is already helping to assemble property listings for the TRL project. He called the concept a great idea. Other U.S. universities have implemented similar programs.

“We’ll see what comes to fruition here,” Ryan said. He said he has filed an open-records request with the Centre County government to collect details about rental properties.

Marcus P. Robinson, the director of IT communications at Penn State, said the university will pair summer interns with Penn State software engineers to help with management and technical guidance for the project. “It’s probable that we’ll provide some web infrastructure support,” he said.

Robinson said the university’s mentoring role will be similar to its contributions to the recent student book-exchange project. That online endeavor, launched within the past few years, also was initiated by students.

From by Adam Smeltz

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