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U of O’s housing guarantee only possible with new off-campus options

Photo by Diyyinah Jamora

First-year students at the University of Ottawa are guaranteed housing, but the current infrastructure to house the high volume of new students is inadequate in both quality and quantity.

Off-campus residence complexes, like the proposed Sandy Hill residence approved by the Ottawa Planning Committee meeting on Feb. 25, are the only tangible solutions going forward to ensure that the housing guaranteed to students is up to par.

For anyone who has ever lived in residence on-campus, it can only be described as an experience. For many, after a beer-pong tournament down the hall the night before a midterm, or one too many times finding puke in the shower Saturday morning, the experience may be something that they were glad to get over come April. But if every doe-eyed first-year who has been accepted to the U of O wants the experience of on-campus living, we should provide it to them — especially since it has been guaranteed.

The problem is that with an ever-increasing student population and limited space on campus, more and more students who are guaranteed residence are finding themselves stuck in inadequate accommodations.

Rather than find themselves on campus,  first-years could be placed at Saint Paul University’s residences, a 20-minute walk from campus, or in decrepit old houses in Sandy Hill, one of which had to be abandoned after furnace issues caused pipes to burst. According to Kaitlynne-Rae Landry, president of the Residents’ Association of the University of Ottawa (RAUO), the major issue with these houses “is that they don’t have the same support and access to services that residents do.”

If we can’t guarantee a certain quality of living for every first-year student in residence, or that they’ll even be near campus, then we shouldn’t be guaranteeing housing at all.

According to Allan Rock though, the guarantee isn’t going anywhere.

In an interview with the Fulcrum in December, Rock explained that every year it gets harder and harder to keep this guarantee and find a bed for every student. But he maintained that the guarantee is necessary for new students.

“I think it’s reassuring to them and to their families,” he said.

The university is trying to address the situation. There are plans to build a 165-unit residence building on Henderson Avenue with the hopes that it will be up in September 2015.

“If we had the money,” said Rock, “we would like to tear down the Leblanc building and build something bigger.”

It’s clear that new residence building must be created to ensure that future students don’t have to deal with the flooding, neglect, and inaccess to services that current off-campus students are coping with.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear that residents of Sandy Hill are trying to stop the city council approval of the 180-unit student residence to be built on the corner of Laurier Avenue East and Friel Street. This student-housing complex would be a great solution to the space issue on campus, and could open the door for more off-campus residences in Sandy Hill, but members of the community aren’t convinced.

In an interview with the CBC, Anna-Marie Melanson, a resident of Sandy Hill, argued that the fellow residents of Sandy Hill “will witness moral decay of society and community living” if the student development is approved.

Now let’s tone down the melodramatics. A moral decay of society and community? Really? While Sandy Hill is home to a number of embassies and historical buildings, it is also home to a much higher number of students. Sandy Hill is the go-to neighbourhood for students after their first-year experience with on-campus living. Will the morals of society really crumble if they move in a year sooner? Probably not, especially when these buildings will be managed by the RAUO.

While it is unfortunate that the community will lose five historic buildings because of the new residence, it seems to be the only solution to the university’s housing issue. If the university wants to maintain its guarantee without putting students in sub-par living arrangements, new off-campus student complexes are the way of the future.

Ottawa’s population has been rapidly growing over the past decade, and the urban layout is going to have to change to accommodate the population — including the students.