SSMU Legislative Council addresses affordable housing with new committee

The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) fourth Legislative Council meeting of the year saw the long-awaited creation of an Affordable Student Housing Committee, first proposed in February 2019. The motion to create the project in collaboration with the nonprofit housing organization Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) passed 24 to 1.

The idea of addressing SSMU rent concerns was introduced last year when a question on the SSMU 2019 Winter Referendum found that 77 per cent of voters were interested in addressing housing accessibility. Students strengthened their concerns around the issue in January 2019, when a SSMU-commissioned report by UTILE revealed that McGill students pay the highest rent of any student population in Montreal.  

During the debate period, Senator André Lametti raised concerns that parts of the motion did not reflect the original question posed in the Winter 2019 Referendum.

“The question was, ‘Would you like SSMU to further prioritize affordable housing, including, but not limited to, further actions to explore developing student housing?’” Lametti said. “The way this question was worded was not an unconditional endorsement of SSMU getting into real estate development. I think it was much more cautious in that respect.”

In response, Vice-President (VP) Finance Sam Haward assured the council that the affordable housing issue would be carefully thought-out.

“This is a smart plan,” Haward said. “If you look at what Concordia [University] is doing with the Woodnote [housing project], you’ll see how big a commitment this is. This is a multimillion-dollar contribution from just the SSMU, probably. So it needs to be done properly. […] Especially right now, with the building closure, it’s not like money isn’t necessarily tight.”

During debate, VP Internal Sanchi Bhalla asked if the committee would consider providing temporary housing along with permanent housing. VP External Adam Gwiazda-Amsel said that the idea could be considered.

“No one direction has been espoused yet, mostly because there is no committee,” Gwiazda-Amsel said. “The strength of something like [creating this committee] is it very much can be adapted to McGill’s needs. So in the sense that McGill has a much higher proportion of international students than Concordia […] transitory spaces [for students] could be considered.”

The council moved on to discuss the recent moratorium on food sales, which was instituted after health inspectors shut down a student-club–run samosa sale. President Bryan Buraga addressed concerns about the effects of the ban on student groups’ finances.

“We were informed [while holding a samosa sale that] one of our SSMU clubs was in violation with health and safety codes,” Buraga said. “This led to a fine [which could range from] between $2,250 and $54,000. [Because of this], SSMU has taken steps to prevent future samosa sales for the time being until we are able to […] follow these health and safety codes.”

Flashback:

Professor Gregory Matthew Mikkelson, President Elect of the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT), joined the meeting to request SSMU’s support for an initiative attempting to reform internal governance at McGill. The initiative, which concerns the appointment of academic deans, would require the selection process to be an open and transparent process and prevent the Principal from chairing her own advisory committee. SSMU’s Legislative Council endorsed the initiative unanimously.

Sound-bite:

“The problem is the utter domination of university governance by the central administration and a few key members of the Board of Governors. What is the solution? Greater democracy, and greater transparency [and] also a move toward more local decision making, which I actually think of as an aspect of greater democracy. The general principle being, we should only be governed by those who have our consent.” – Gregory Matthew Mikkelson

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