SSMU hears $19 million student housing pitch

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held their first Legislative Council of 2019 on Jan. 24. As this is the final semester in SSMU executives’ terms, some pushed major legislation to the forefront.

SSMU invites UTILE to research affordable housing options for students

General Coordinator of L’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) Laurent Levesque introduced an affordable student housing project to the council. UTILE is a non-profit organization in Quebec that promotes and develops affordable student housing in cooperation with student unions. Although SSMU does not sit on UTILE’s board of student directors, it has collaborated with the organization since 2014.

Levesque summarized UTILE’s 60-page proposition on how SSMU could create new affordable housing.

“The first [option] looked into was Royal Victoria Hospital,” Levesque said. “We researched residential conversion […involving buying] existing housing, [lowering] rents, and [offering] it to students. We [also] looked into two different construction scenarios: A medium-rise which is four to six stories or a high-rise which means eight or more stories.”

UTILE explored each option based on criteria such as environmental impact, risk, and quality of life for tenants. Each proposal carried some complications, but Levesque noted that a medium-sized construction project would be ideal.

“The average rent per room in this recommended scenario would be $650 [amenities included],” Levesque said. “About 58 per cent of students pay more than that.”

The suggested 150-unit building is estimated to cost $19 million to construct. Fortunately for SSMU, part of UTILE’s mission is to connect student unions with investors to fund construction. Levesque estimated that SSMU would only need to pay $1.6 million out of pocket, and could use government and private investments to make up the difference.

SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer and Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Jacob Shapiro expressed a strong interest in the project and planned for time to be allocated outside of Council for discussion and questions.

Solidarity with Unis’tot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en

In 2010, Unis’tot’en members built a cabin directly on the path of a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline that would cut through their territory in northern British Columbia. They argued that their hereditary chiefs retain ownership of the land and did not consent to construction. More recently, the government deployed Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force (RCMP) tactical officers on Jan. 7 to breach the Unis’tot’en Camp.

In conjunction with SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek, Council members submitted a motion declaring SSMU’s solidarity with the Unis’tot’en. Senate Caucus Representative Bryan Buraga was primarily responsible for the motion.

“This motion would [urge] SSMU to pledge their support for the Unis’tot’en as well as communicate this position to [the] local [Member of Parliament] and Minister of Justice,” Buraga said.

SSMU’s motion originally mentioned their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. However, several Council members raised concerns with this statement.

“The truth is that a lot of McGill students will be employed [in the gas and oil market], especially engineers,” Club Councillor Victoria Flaherty said. “If we move the amendment [to remove opposition], it would be more representative [of] the McGill population.”

In response, the original statement was amended to remove direct opposition to the pipeline. Buraga argued that this did not constitute a major change, as the motion still called for the signing of a pledge opposed to the pipeline.

“We denounce attempts by Coastal GasLink Pipeline, federal and provincial government, or RCMP to interfere in the rights of the Unis’tot’en,” the third clause of the pledge reads.

Jacob Shapiro objected to what he believes is a contradictory stance on the matter.

“It is lacking [in] transparency [on the part of SSMU] to take away an action that we’re clearly doing,” Shapiro said. “We will still be in opposition to the pipeline [due to the citation], we just won’t say we are in opposition.”

The motion ultimately passed without explicit opposition to the pipeline itself but in favour of the show of solidarity.

SSMU will hold its next council meeting on Feb. 7.

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