Hope for student housing, but not enough activists say

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By: Jansher Saeed

The student housing crisis has found itself a home amongst top headlines while students still struggle to find one of their own. 

From stories of cockroaches and bedbugs to skyrocketing rent and unethical landlords to the efforts directed at solving the crisis, student housing crisis is becoming a household word. 

In a final attempt of the year, on Dec. 2, 2019, the activist group Student Housing Crisis in Waterloo went to city council to present a cumulative action-report highlighting the little efforts being implemented towards the crisis.

“Students are in survival mode. They are more concerned with their studies then concerned with housing issues,” Sylvia Skoruch said, founder of the Student Housing Crisis in Waterloo Facebook page. “Sometimes, we have to put our own emotional health to the side, our sanity to the side, our sleep schedules, our own needs to the side just so that we can be successful in our university and catch up with our bills.”

Their claim is supported by a new report due to go before a Kitchener committee, stating that housing within the region has become unaffordable except for the area’s wealthiest. 

“Only a third of the people in the city of Kitchener can afford to purchase what is now the average resale house in the city,” Karen Cooper, the city’s Manager of Strategic and Business Planning said. 

The report says that rent has increased by an average of 35 per cent while average housing prices are soared by 88 per cent from 2008 to 2018. Most of these increases took place post-2016.

As the municipality struggles to put together a working solution, local efforts are taking charge in the city’s absence.

On Nov. 11, 2019, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church opened its doors to homeless people after the region was struck with heavy snowfall. 

Sixty people sought a haven on the temporary shelter’s first night, with numbers growing for the rest of the month.

“I would say we averaged about 100 people a night,” Rianna Rops, Outreach Coordinator for St. Mary’s said. “We [have], to date, had 196 different individuals come use our space. But not all of them are there at once. And about 40 of them are youth.”

But on Nov. 25, 2019, the shelter closed.

The region has scheduled to provide long term shelter at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in downtown Kitchener. 

The sight offers 45 overnight spaces, much lower than its temporary predecessor with an overflow sight at the Bridges Shelter in Cambridge.   

“In the future long term, we want to be key players in supporting whatever gaps are going on downtown,” said Rops.

But shelters are not full-time residential areas. The Regional Council has approved the development of 638 affordable homes on five Waterloo-region properties over the next ten years. In the past five years, the region has built 200 new affordable units while 93 units remain under construction and 61 in development. 

In a comment shared on Facebook, Jordan Lapointe, a moderator for the Student Housing Crisis in Waterloo student page, wrote, “So this translates to what, 64 new affordable units per year? Meanwhile, the waiting list for affordable housing is thousands long and expected to rise.”

With the approval of 638 housing units, the municipality also has plans to form an innovation table this year. 

The table will give voice to stakeholders outside the housing sector as well as those within it to overcome the hurdle of finding new ways to provide affordable housing.

Construction cranes seem to be overflowing in Waterloo, yet affordable housing remains a thirst unquenched for the residents.