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Residence fee increases are unfair to students

The view from second-floor residence isn’t fantastic. I can’t see over the first row of beige homes across the street. There’s no beautiful skyline or city lights. It isn’t great, but it’s fine. Would I pay $800 more a year to move six floors up for a better view? Definitely not.

Residence Services recently announced plans to hike their fees, including an 8.5 per cent increase for incoming first-year students living in Rundle Hall, equal to $60 more per month. They also want to charge $800 more a year for “rooms with a view” in the new buildings to be completed next September. Keep in mind that this view includes the Kinesiology Complex or, if you’re lucky, those distant orange and yellow towers in Brentwood.

I love Calgary, but let’s not fool ourselves. Northwest Calgary is pretty ugly.

University residence is meant to provide a convenient and affordable community for students. Raising fees will decrease the number of students who can access these services and promote certain floors as “premium,” hindering a sense of community.

Residence Services says that they must raise fees to pay off accumulated debt. Half of their current $21-million budget goes towards paying off mortgages on buildings constructed almost a decade ago.

Paying off debt by making residence even more inaccessible to students isn’t a long-term solution. This is especially true when Residence Services is taking on more debt before they’ve paid for the existing buildings.

Residence Services is phasing out perfectly usable buildings in order to build new ones with slightly nicer architecture and supposedly picturesque views of northwest Calgary.

I get it. We want to increase the image of our university. But it’s important to step back and look at who will pay the cost.

Aurora and Crowsnest will replace three of the residences built to house athletes for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Norquay, Brewster and Castle will be demolished when the new buildings are finished. Older residences aren’t necessarily as pretty as the angular concept art for Aurora, but they’re functional.

This year, upper-year undergraduate students living in a one-bedroom apartment in Brewster Hall paid $5,654 in residence fees. Next year, the same students will pay $7,795 for a similar room in Aurora. That increases to $8,595 for a room on the top floors. There will be no option to pay less in Brewster because Brewster will be gone. This is a drastic jump that Residence Services is careful to avoid in all their press releases.

The University of Calgary isn’t the only place in the city dealing with housing problems. The Calgary housing market is broken. With restrictive secondary-suite regulations and consistently low vacancy rates, finding somewhere to live that’s both affordable and accessible is almost impossible for students. Residence is supposed to be a solution to these housing problems. Instead, it contributes to them.

I’m not from the city, so I chose residence because I had no other options. I didn’t know anyone here and the idea of thrusting myself into the tumultuous, off-campus roommate market of a city I didn’t know terrified me. Residence was the obvious solution.

I’ve forged friendships in residence. I’ve laughed, cried and been duct-taped inside of a dorm room. One of the draws of residence is that you’re part of a community. Premium rooms create a class divide, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The idea is that a good view is worth $800 to some people and not to others. In a system that relies heavily on the sense of communal identity, divisions are never a good thing.

In Yamnuska Hall, 550 students live in rooms exactly identical to my own. We are on equal footing. We all forked over the same amount to help pay off Residence Services’ debt. We all, for whatever reason, didn’t want to deal with the off-campus housing market.

Residence is meant to be a safe space for everyone. Premium rooms go directly against that. If students don’t see the value of the residence community or they feel that they can find more affordable options elsewhere, they’ll turn away from campus and towards options like illegal secondary suites.

It’s fine for Residence Services to want to improve the U of C’s image, but their first responsibility is to provide accessible communities to students. Right now, they’re failing at the most basic part of their job.

Melanie Bethune, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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