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RAUO calls petition to prevent new residences in area ‘short-sighted’

Photo by Marta Kierkus

More than 1,100 Sandy Hill residents, who represent about 10 per cent of the area’s population, have signed a petition to oppose the University of Ottawa’s plan to create two new residences in the neighbourhood.

Action Sandy Hill (ASH), a community association in charge of organizing activities ranging from fall BBQs to neighbourhood watches, created the petition. The petition began circulating in October when residents became concerned that the growing number of students would have a negative impact in the historical neighbourhood, according to Sandy Hill resident and eight-year ASH board member François Bregha.

“One of the values we want to maintain in the neighbourhood is diversity, and we’re concerned that if one demographic group grows too large, it will drive other demographics away.”

Because the U of O has grown by about 10,000 students since the year 2000, it has been unable to accommodate all the students who need to live in residence. Bregha said “there is absolutely enough room on campus to build new residences.”

“The University of Ottawa has the lowest percentage of rooms in all of Ontario,” he said. “We celebrate their idea to build more residences, but we think they should build them on campus.”

The petition was presented Nov. 4 to the Town & Gown committee, which includes ASH members and university representatives, and Bregha said ASH will continue to lobby against the university building residences off-campus.

“There are two tracks we are fighting against here: the university residences that the school is promoting, and the off-campus residences that private landlords are creating by converting family homes into multi-apartment buildings,” Bregha said. “All of this is proceeding without an overall plan. We are asking the city to get ahead of the problem, instead of trying to respond, as it is doing here.”

Kaitlynne-Rae Landry, president of the Residents’ Association of the University of Ottawa (RAUO), said the lack of residences is problematic but disagrees with ASH’s approach.

“Quite frankly, I think this petition is incredibly short-sighted,” she said. “I would personally be willing to bet that the noise, people, and commotion level outside of any given residence is lower than the same on any given street in Sandy Hill.”

Landry said the aversion to residences is based on media-portrayed stereotypes as opposed to the real-life behaviour of U of O students. She said Sandy Hill residents should be more concerned about students living on their own than those being monitored by the RAUO.

Bregha and Landry said the real issue is the landlords who exploit students.

“There are people willing to seize the fact that the university is growing as an opportunity to make some additional money, but it is their choice to do so,” Landry said.

Bregha said there are landlords and developers “exploiting too many loopholes.”

The city has put a temporary hold on housing conversions because of the issue.