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CSU gets serious on student housing

by Milos Kovacevic November 18, 2014
CSU gets serious on student housing

Student union consider entry into housing market by commissioning, hearing pitch

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Concordia’s Student Union (CSU) heard a commissioned proposal from the co-op Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) on funding possibilities for the development of affordable student housing.

The group’s presentation showed how the CSU could lend a hand in creating affordable student housing by outlining the pros and cons of four possibilities: construction from scratch, modifications of existing commercial or residential buildings, or finally a pilot project that would use space and energy efficiency to create a 140-room building. The plan would include a rooftop terrace, communal gardens and kitchens and be completed as early as 2016. It would be Montreal’s first student co-op building.

UTILE has been an organization since 2008 and specializes in student co-op housing, with the majority of its team hailing from urban design. It’s mandate is to empower students in their housing.

“The idea was to find the parameters according to which it would be possible to invest in such a project, and to compare different scenarios and identify those with the most potential in terms of how it’s developed and how to fund it,” said UTILE Project Manager and presenter Laurent Levesque. He said UTILE spent about a month on this particular study, and harnessed its deep institutional knowledge in navigating the complicated landscape of land development, real estate value, and regulations/by-laws.

Though UTILE has strong ties to similar groups across the continent and Europe, Montreal’s situation is particular when it comes to student housing. Most of the student population live in shared apartments and not dorms. This, in turn, gives rise to unique market pressure.

Deslaurier said that 25 per cent of large apartments—those three-and-a-half and greater—in Montreal are occupied by students. This vulnerable segment of the market also undergoes the most significant rental increases. According to UTILE’s figures, the Plateau’s student population pay, on average, 47 per cent more for a two bedroom apartment. That number jumps to 81 per cent more for three bedroom apartments.

“I believe they were very happy with our recommendation, because in the end we analyzed the different possibilities,” said Levesque.

Deslaurier said the impact of a successful undertaking of the project would have a positive impact not only on student tenants but the city’s entire population, due to the development of affordable rental housing.

The most expensive units could be upwards of over $8 million, of which two-thirds would be provided by rent, and the rest financed by loans, mortgages and investment from outside investors.

“It is one of the most revolutionary projects that we as a student union could be working on, as it directly combats the rising cost of living and studying for students by working to decrease, and prioritize the decrease of, housing costs for students,” said CSU President Ben Prunty. “The project, if successful, will have tangible effects but also cultural impacts since it will literally result in a structural change in the housing landscape.”

What happens from here on out, though, may depend on the referendum question being asked in next week’s CSU byelections asking whether there should be a continued prioritization on student housing conditions and co-op initiatives

“If we receive a positive response from students then we will continue to develop a plan of action, and communicate that with the students, and in the event that we are interested in funding the project we will almost certainly seek direct student input prior to doing so,” said Prunty.

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