On Monday, January 27, a group composed of SSMU representatives, community members, and housing activists convened to discuss affordable student housing in Montreal.
As the first in a series of workshops hosted by SSMU and the Milton Parc Citizens’ Committee, the public assembly featured representatives from La communauté Milton Parc, the Concordia Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO), and Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), who each spoke about their organizations’ experiences.
Dimitrios Roussopoulos, from La communauté Milton Parc, opened the session by providing a brief history of the Milton Parc community and communal housing movements in Montreal. Roussopoulos clarified the distinction between Milton Parc as a neighborhood and the Milton Parc co-operative, the latter of which is the largest publicly-owned co-op in North America. Roussopoulos also highlighted the work of community activist Lucia Kowaluk – whose efforts and leadership shaped the community – and strongly recommended that students read Villages in Cities, a comprehensive history of the Milton Parc community, which he co-authored. He emphasized the importance of creating more co-ops, highlighting that the Milton Parc community “removed six urban city blocks in the second biggest city in Canada off the capitalist market,” which he described as “quite an accomplishment.”
Following Roussopoulos’ talk, Laurent Lévesque of UTILE took the floor. He described the seven year-old organization’s mission as “try[ing] to expand nonprofit and co-operative housing options,” with a particular focus on students. Lévesque expressed concern over new forms of housing speculation and development, asserting that “in the last three years, the average rents in the Plateau for a three bedroom apartment went up by 30 per cent.” Citing the fact that these rent increases are occurring in areas with the greatest concentrations of McGill students, Lévesque stated that “the housing crisis that Montreal is facing is also a student housing crisis.” He added that the quick turnover of students doesn’t help – each year, new incoming students arrive, introducing a new population of potentially exploitable residents.
These issues highlight the already intense need for affordable, accessible student housing, something that UTILE is actively working towards. Currently under construction is a housing project called the Woodnote, a 90-unit student co-operative expected to house 144 Concordia undergraduates when completed, set to open this summer. Lévesque summarized his and UTILE’s objectives, saying “the goal of building not-for-profit student housing now is not just to have options for students in the short term, but also to plan for future housing crises.”
When asked how to get students excited about housing, Lévesque stated that the best way is to make it personal. “It seems abstract when you talk about housing,” he explained, “but when you talk about your house, it becomes very tangible.”
Lastly, Leanne Ashworth from HOJO highlighted the importance of easily accessible, accurate information, which is often hard for students to find. Per HOJO, this is especially true for international students who arrive and need to find a place to live as soon as possible. These students, she explained, are more vulnerable – and landlords know it. Ashworth noted personal privacy as a prime opportunity for exploitation, explaining that landlords will often ask for excessive amounts of information, and desperate students will provide it. She observed that, “For a lot of students, when they come in and they’re given a[n application] form and they have no time to find an apartment, they will give everything.”
Beyond their personal privacy initiatives, HOJO also helps students to advocate for themselves and organize with their neighbors. “A cool thing about organizing students,” Ashworth explained, “is that students know how to do homework.” Among the resources Ashworth provided was the informational site likehome.info (lappart.info in French, zufangba.info in Mandarin), which is designed to make housing issues more accessible to students. Though HOJO is a Concordia-based group, Ashworth emphasized that she welcomes McGill students to attend HOJO events. Their upcoming workshop on leasing and rent is slated to take place on March 23 from 12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
The event was catered by Midnight Kitchen and sponsored in part by the SSMU VP External and the SSMU Community Affairs Commissioner, who guided the group discussion. The next workshop in this series, covering Frosh, St. Patrick’s Day, and being a respectful neighbour, will take place on February 24. Students should be aware that the Montreal police will be present at this session. The following workshop on March 23 will cover homelessness in the community. At the time of print, the event page does not say that police will be present.
For students interested in participating in the conversation, there is an ongoing SSMU survey open to the McGill community: https://forms.gle/AABWCoU1QeBJ6sxp8