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New New Rez at 515 Ste. Catherine

McGill shuffles wait-listed first years to new luxury accommodations at the last minute

An excess of first-year students requesting space in McGill’s residences drove the school to lease four floors of a downtown luxury student housing unit this fall.

Located three blocks from McGill at 515 Ste. Catherine O., the eponymous apartment building rents exclusively to university students in Montreal. It holds 440 fully-furnished rooms in units of three to five bedrooms, and features a gym facility, games room, and small movie theatre.

“It’s pretty much like Solin Hall, but if IKEA constructed the building,” said Julia Hubbard, U0 Arts and the founder of a Facebook group for residents of the new building. Solin Hall is an off-campus residence in St. Henri with a similar structure to 515 Ste. Catherine.

“It doesn’t feel like you go back to rez; it feels like going home to your own brand-new apartment,” Hubbard added.

McGill’s residence system guarantees housing to all first-year students who request it, but each year dozens are put on a temporary housing list while students with secured beds accept or decline McGill’s residence offers. This spring the temporary list grew to about 200 students, forcing McGill to look for new housing arrangements, explained Janice Johnson, director of the Student Housing Office.

“I could have rented 100 or 200 apartments scattered around Montreal, but that wouldn’t have been the same experience for the students,” Johnson said. “We were lucky 515 was available to us.”

The McGill lease solves both the school’s last-minute space crunch and 515 Ste. Catherine’s ongoing difficulty with finding occupants; the building had been scheduled to open in fall 2007, but had been plagued with renovation complications, delaying the opening until this school year and leaving many rooms vacant.

The management of 515 Ste. Catherine approached the McGill market early in its development seeking collaboration and advertising opportunities at the school. Alice Leduc, property manager of the building, said that she had anticipated the over-spills from McGill residences would likely fill the building.

“There is a good demand here in Montreal, but there aren’t that many places students can go,” Leduc said.

515 Ste. Catherine is run by Terracorp/Aubon Real Estate, a development company that operates several other condominium and student-friendly apartment complexes in southern Ontario. The building’s residents are largely from McGill, but also comprise students from Concordia, Université du Montreal, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Lasalle College.

Students renting through McGill will pay $850 a month, $50 more than the building’s other residents. The extra fee pays for access to Floor Fellows, a Hall Director, and the residence council system that exists at all McGill residences.

The residence will be characterized as a MORE House under McGill’s student housing system, though it is not geographically close to the other group-living buildings in the MORE system on des Pins.

Students on the temporary housing list may be forced in their first month of occupancy to share a single room two or three ways. Since wait-listed students were offered a space at 515 Ste. Catherine in early August, students placed in other residences have also opted to switch into the new building.

But the hasty arrangement and scramble to complete construction has left several loose ends. The 11th floor remains unfilled, and several floors still lack Internet, window curtains, lighting fixtures, and postboxes. The movie theatre remains out of order.

Some say that McGill should have anticipated the space problems earlier, so that the school would not be forced into high-pressure decisions about its student residences.

“It’s ridiculous that the University seems so ill-prepared to deal with its residences,” said Roland Lindala-Haumont, U2 Political Science and Canadian Studies and a Frosh leader of some 515 Ste. Catherine residents.