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Construction of CSU student housing imminent

by Étienne Lajoie September 5, 2017
Construction of CSU student housing imminent

Demolition of former funeral complex on land complete in “prime location”

The demolition of the building on the land where the future Concordia Student Union (CSU) cooperative student housing will be built is over, and the project’s construction is due to begin shortly.

Originally chosen for its location and value, according to CSU general coordinator Omar Riaz, the land is across the street from Lafontaine Park, on Papineau Avenue.

Laurent Lévesque, the general coordinator of Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), the CSU’s partner in the project, described the land as “a prime location.”

Ben Prunty, who was the CSU’s president at the time of the first study into the feasibility of the project, said the initiative is “fulfilling all the fundamentals and moving forward as planned.”

According to the CSU’s original FAQ document about the cooperative housing, the plan was to have a location “likely […] in the southwest of Montreal along the metro system’s green line.” The plans changed when the location that was ultimately chosen became available.

Lévesque said UTILE and CSU considered using the existing building on the land, an old Urgel Bourgie funeral complex, but “concerns for the quality of life brought them to favour a new construction.”

In September 2014, when Prunty was CSU president, UTILE was commissioned to do a feasibility study into the possibility of building cooperative housing. In the October 2014 study, UTILE recommended constructing a new building “as the most viable development method.” The organization argued in the report that a new building “would have lower service costs and would be significantly more energy and space efficient than the old apartment stock of Montreal.”

UTILE’s two other recommendations were buying existing apartments or acquiring a non-residential building.

In December 2014, in a CSU by-election, students overwhelmingly voted in a favour of considering the new student housing with 1,598 “yes” votes and 182 “no” votes. It was the first of two referendum questions concerning the cooperative initiative. The second, in April 2015, asked students if they approved the reallocation of $1.85 million from the Student Space Accessible Education Legal Contingency Fund (SSAELC) to finance the creation of the Popular University Student Housing Fund (PUSH).

Students voted to create the PUSH fund, which finances around 13 per cent of the total cost of the approximately $14-million project. Funding for the initiative also comes from government bodies like the city of Montreal, which announced a $500,000 contribution in February and $1.5 million from the Chantier de l’économie sociale.

Limited number of spots available

There will only be about 150 spots in approximately 70 units available in the cooperative housing, according to Riaz. The units will mostly be studios, but there will also be 4 ½ and 5 ½ that will be shared. The CSU’s Housing and Jobs Office (HOJO) will be responsible for administering housings vacancies and finding the tenants.

“We will definitely make sure it goes to students that need the financial support,” said the CSU general coordinator. HOJO’s selection will be based on specific criteria it’s currently working on establishing with the student housing’s provisional committee, put together before the land was bought.

Lévesque stressed he didn’t want to compromise the housing’s quality because of its affordability.

The issue of affordability for the student housing units was always high on CSU and UTILE’s list of priorities. Riaz said students will be able to rent at a monthly-rate of around $400 to $440. In comparison, the cheapest available accommodation at Concordia’s Grey Nuns Residence–a small single room with no sink–is $731.46 per month.

To help build the best housing cooperative, UTILE and the CSU have been consulting the housing’s provisional committee–which will eventually become the board of directors–on a weekly basis.

The committee is made up of students from various faculties who have been studying the project and making recommendations to CSU and UTILE. Tenants from the housing will also join the board.

Sidney Bhalla, one of two civil engineering students on the committee, looked into making the most environmentally-friendly building possible. In addition to studying acoustics and lighting, Bhalla and other students from the civil engineering program tried to determine whether investing in a central air conditioning system or more isolated walls was more environmentally-friendly.

The group’s simulations confirmed that having a better building envelope–the components that separate the interior from the exterior–was the best option.

According to Riaz, the contract for the construction for the housing cooperative has not been given out yet, and the CSU is still looking for a construction consultant and a company specialized in property management.

Although the property management company “will take care of repairs that are not usually taken care of by tenants,” most of the decisions regarding the cooperative will be made by the board of directors.

“Whatever [the tenants] want to do with the building will have to be a decision by consensus or by a vote at the board,” explained Riaz.

Lévesque said UTILE will be collaborating with the CSU this year, now more than ever. He hopes  students will be able to start living in the cooperative by August 2018.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

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