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SSMU plans for affordable student housing enters consultation phase

Since 2015, the partnership between the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and L’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) has worked to maintain affordable rent and educated students on real-estate practices and tenants’ rights. A 2018 report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows that Montreal’s vacancy rate has dropped by 1 percent between 2017 and 2018.

In 2019, SSMU continued its fight for affordable student housing by introducing a project in collaboration with UTILE to look into the potential for constructing affordable housing specifically for McGill students. In October 2019, SSMU created the Affordable Housing Committee dedicated to the issue making progress on this issue. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Adam Gwiazda-Amsel is on the committee and is organizing a town hall meeting on Jan. 27 to gain insight on students’ priorities.

“We are trying to solicit feedback from students about what their priorities for a living space are,” Gwiazda-Amsel said. “What are the sort of qualities [SSMU] should look for in the building and its residents? Aside from the building project, the Affordable Housing Committee also felt the need to educate students about housing rights because this is also why rents go up.”

The committee will invite UTILE directors, McGill Legal Information Clinic members, and people from the Milton-Parc community to help educate students on rent-control, which will help control rent prices in the long term.

“Different communities have seen success with tenant strikes and information campaigns about exploitative rent practices,” Gwiazda-Amsel said. “For example, a landlord can only raise your rent two per cent a year in Montreal, but a lot of students do not know that.”

Along with teaching students, SSMU is working with UTILE to design housing for McGill students, created by McGill students. UTILE’s General Coordinator Laurent Levesque works in collaboration with SSMU.

“We are working towards the biggest possible project,” Levesque said. “Our working target at the moment is to build at least 300 beds [within five years]. In the short term, we are aiming to confirm this and other project parameters in a contract between UTILE and SSMU before the summer so we can get to work looking for land [and] designing the building.”

Even with SSMU and UTILE’s operating budget, space and resources are limited for making affordable student housing.

“We are also in talks with the City of Montreal to make sure they continue to fund affordable student housing,” Levesque said. “[Montreal] has [done so] for our Woodnote project in collaboration with the Concordia Student Union and our Angus project. That will be the key to taking affordable student housing to an even higher level.”

Levesque also stressed the importance of educating students on housing rights as a long-term tool to fight against rent increases.

“There is a lot of helpful advice on how to find a decent place in Montreal and how to fix problems you might have with your landlord, flatmates, et cetera,” Levesque said. “Montreal is facing a serious housing crisis and one way that affects students’ lives is that it can take much more time and effort than before to find an affordable flat. I recommend budgeting plenty of time when you start looking. If you’re planning on moving, consider looking into apartment swaps, that help keep rents low.”

Members of the Milton-Parc community will also attend the town hall to teach students based on the community’s experience with fighting rent increases. SSMU Community Affairs coordinator Claire Grenier works with the Milton-Parc community. 

“Milton-Parc [residents] have always been avid organizers,” Grenier said. “Right now, [we are] working on campaigns to combat one of the greatest causes of higher rents, AirBnb. Hopefully McGill students can take inspiration from the community’s work and start more co-op student housing, or educate themselves about the effects of AirBnb on neighborhoods like Milton Parc.”

Students can visit UTILE’s website,, to gather more information about tenant’s rights.

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