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Privatized student residence won’t solve housing problems

August 30, 2017 —

Do you live in a “student ghetto?”

If you live in the community of Banff Trail, the answer is yes, according to Campus Suites president Henry Mortan.

In early August, Calgary city council approved a 28-storey Campus Suites development in Motel Village, located near the Banff Trail CTrain station. The building contains dormitory-style rooms and is intended for students attending the University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Rent will be about $1,000 per month, which is equivalent to what U of C students pay for a single bedroom apartment on campus. In short, it’s a privatized residence building.

When discussing this development, as well as similar ones in other cities, Mortan continually refers to student ghettos, a term for communities close to a university that mostly house students. Its historical pejorative use aside, the term carries negative implications like poor housing quality and higher crime rates.

Banff Trail’s crime rate is among the worst 25 neighbourhoods city-wide and many properties are visibly run-down. But Mortan’s assertion — that “as students move into modern buildings proximate to campus, they empty out those student ghettos and housing returns to single-family dwellings again” — is deeply misinformed.

Students who rent houses or basement suites near the university often do so because of the high cost of living on residence. For them, an off-campus privatized residence building has little financial draw, especially when there’s plenty of cheaper options near the university.

Many students choose to live off campus because they want something different than the residence experience. While residence can be a nice middle-ground between living with your parents and dealing with a landlord, many students are eager to move on from the world of floor events and meal plans. But the Campus Suites development continues to hold students’ hands, with check-ins from staff among many amenities offered by the building.

Though amenities aren’t a bad thing, they put Campus Suites in the strange position of competing with on-campus residences. And it’s tough to see how that market exists. Last summer, U of C Residence Services offered $500 to students who could successfully refer a friend to live in residence, saying a “soft market” necessitated the move. If school-run residences are having trouble reaching capacity, it’s tough to imagine how Campus Suites plan to fill their 500 beds.

Morton and Campus Suites — as well as city council, who approved this development — misunderstand what many students need from their living situation. They don’t need speciality housing with full amenities that cost $1,000 every month. Instead, they need affordable and safe housing.

The most obvious way that this could be accomplished is secondary suite legalization. Many units for rent near the U of C are illegal secondary suites, meaning they haven’t been approved by city council. It also means that buildings may not be up to code and that students living in them don’t have basic renters’ rights.

Students live in secondary suites not because they want to live in a so-called “student ghetto,” but because it’s the only thing they can afford. No amount of amenities in a student-tailored skyscraper will change that.

Jason HerringGauntlet editorial board

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