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Initiative seeks to create city-wide policy on affordable and accessible student housing

A new initiative to study and develop affordable student housing in Montreal is gaining support from universities around the city.

After being approached by independent research organization L’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has begun to take part in UTILE’s citywide initiative.

UTILE is a non-profit organization created in Jan. 2013 by students from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Université de Montréal (UdeM), and other Montreal universities. The organization is currently working on a project called Prospection des habitudes et aspirations résidentielles étudiantes (PHARE).

The purpose of the project is to collect data about student housing from a variety of universities in Montreal, with the intention of creating options for affordable student housing in the city.

“We created this non-profit because we realized that there’s absolutely no one that’s working on affordable student housing in Quebec,” Laurent Levesque, UTILE executive director, said. “One of the things we want to push forward is to record and have data on [the] Quebec student housing situation.”

According to SSMU Vice-President External Samuel Harris, UTILE initially approached SSMU and other student associations in the city in hopes of collaborating in data collection.

“There’s a lot of [data] about affordable housing, social housing—and those are very important—but [with] affordable student housing [….] a lot of advocacy and research has not been done,” Harris said. “There’s a lack of hard data, as opposed to anecdotal stories about the experiences of students.”

Similarly, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) also saw value in participating in this type of data collection.

“We’re very aware of the fact that housing is often a very serious concern for many students,” said Gene Marrow, CSU vice-president academic and representative for CSU in the PHARE initiative. “Through our Housing and Job Bank, which also acts as a sort of legal information clinic, we have the chance to learn about a lot of the individual situations facing students. However, without solid representative data, it is hard to dress a portrait of the average student at Concordia.”

On March 7, SSMU sent out a survey via email to a sample of SSMU members. It asked questions focused on the student’s current housing situations, factors considered when deciding on a new lease, and price ranges that are within the student’s budget.

“In April, we’ll have the data [and] what’s really exciting about this project is that the firm will produce the market […] for affordable student housing,” Levesque said.

After the data has been collected, UTILE and the student associations hope to use that information in order to develop student-housing policy. While a concrete policy has not been determined, the goal would be to ask the city to develop student housing policies that would make housing more affordable.

“We hope to publish this to make a case for the need for affordable student housing for Montreal , especially at a time where the need is recognized by private developers who are making luxury student housing in very high numbers,” Levesque said.

Levesque noted that the city has already expressed interest in the research.

“The city wanted to have more information on the student housing situation before going forward on the policy,” he said.

Alongside the current research initiative, UTILE is also looking for a location to build its first co-ops for student housing. Levesque said it will have 100 to 200 rooms, and construction will hopefully be completed by 2016.

“It’s already almost entirely funded […] from the government of Quebec, which created a pilot program [from] the Societé d’Habitation du Quebec (SHQ), which is funding our first building,” Levesque said. “Our project will be the first inside that program.”

Levesque explained that the co-op is just one example of the direction that UTILE hopes to take with this new concept of student housing. UTILE wants to create a more communal style of student living, with students from  different universities living together.

“We don’t want to only build student housing as we’ve been building [it] for 40 years,” said Levesque. “We think that it’s a great opportunity to rethink student housing and adapt it to the needs of students of the 21st century [….] The model we’re developing […] is based [on] communal living.”

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