Editorial: Making the Case for a Student Housing Co-op

Graphic Sam Jones

Once upon a time, in downtown Montreal, there was a first-year international student desperately searching for housing. Because of work-related time constraints and the high costs of flying into the city and renting a hotel, she was only able to search for apartments over the course of 36 hours.

The pressures of finding an apartment in a new city, visiting it, negotiating numbers and signing a lease are taxing enough, but doing so with so little time leaves most first-years out of luck when it comes to finding a good deal. And so, this student lived “happily” ever after, to the tune of $900 per month. By 2017, “fairy tales” like these will become a little less common if Concordia undergrads vote in the upcoming CSU election for the student union to reallocate funds towards a student housing co-op project.

The rental market, like every other faction of free trade, preys on the unsuspecting. Nine tenants out of 10 have received excessive rent increases that added up to about $200 last year. Landlords aren’t respecting the guideline set out by the province’s Régie du logement, according to the resident advocate group Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec.

The university offers little protection for this type of predation. Currently, Concordia’s residences only provide housing to first-year students and spots are limited. Universities around the world, especially in the United States, prioritize upperclassmen as well as freshmen living spaces as many provide options for first-years transitioning outside the standard dorm rooms.

Where the university administration’s influence wanes, the CSU sees an opportunity to fulfill their mandate and help students keep their expenses to a minimum. The pressures of not making rent and juggling a part-time job on top of a demanding course load is not conducive for studying well and ultimately earning a degree. This initiative could help ease the pressure on students in these situtations, since the CSU’s Housing Co-op, presumably, will provide fair prices and not change the rules of the game mid-contract.

Removing students from the housing market, at least for their first year, is a concrete way to remedy the issue. Having an alternative to brutalist prison look-alikes at Loyola and a beautiful but expensive former nunnery would be a welcome addition for future first-years weighing their housing options. With room for a little over 900 students, the residences at Concordia are inaccessible to much of the 36,000-strong undergraduate student body. Aside from the issue of availability, the rental cost is also a hurdle, compounded by the low-quality, high-cost meal plan imposed on students living in residence to the benefit of a massive multinational corporation.

If all goes to plan, in three years a new building will be erected in the inner city, offering up to 150 rooms with stabilized rent that won’t succumb to the spikes of the wider rental market. According to VP Academic and Advocacy Terry Wilkings, this is possible due to a loan from the CSU that will eventually repay itself, allowing for more housing projects in the future. By taking some students out of the rental market, this housing co-op would also reduce students’ unwitting contribution to gentrification.

Two or more students renting an apartment together can often (begrudgingly) afford to pay more than a single parent or young family; landlords often take advantage of that, charging higher rent in neighbourhoods that appeal to students. Students having less of a reason to search for cheap rent elsewhere in the city will help to stop the displacement of long-time residents and families in gentrifying areas.

The CSU’s student space fund has accrued over $12 million and that money has sat dormant over the years as there has previously been little agreement on how to spend the funds. Approving the use of a portion of the fund on a housing co-op is a no-brainer.