Students’ concerns with housing and transit are generally considered local issues. Problems that exist in one municipality may not exist in another; solutions preferred by one community may be proven deficient elsewhere. These troubles are frequently reported on; it is easy to find news coverage about illegal student housing and the nuisance created by monster homes or about incomplete privately-owned student residences and inadequate interim accommodations. After combing through many articles like these and consulting with one another, our student leaders have grown increasingly confident that their constituents are experiencing common barriers to quality, affordable housing, and extensive inter-regional transit that warrant provincial responses.
This sentiment was the impetus for OUSA’s new Housing, Transit & Community Development policy paper. Joining the OUSA library for the first time, this policy paper aims to illustrate what students believe to be underappreciated issues and concerns in their municipalities that can be addressed provincially.
Seeing students’ vulnerability as a function of their inexperience with rental housing, authors acknowledge that student tenants are unsure of where to access information about their rights and responsibilities. As a result, they are easily taken advantage of and, to aggravate matters further, become confused when seeking recourse and restitution through the Landlord and Tenant Board or the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit.
A lack of coordinated transit routes connecting different municipalities negatively impacts students’ choice of institution, as well as their attendance once they have enrolled. Without conscious planning to accommodate the transient nature of student populations, they will continue to face undue barriers in their communities. In the worst cases, students are pushed out of the neighbourhoods they want to live in by practices that specifically target their demographic.
The Housing, Transit & Community Development policy recommends that near-campus neighbourhoods be consciously planned and developed. Students would like to see the provincial government do more to protect students from unfair bylaw enforcement and housing practices. All student tenants would be better protected under the Residential Tenancies Act if it addressed their specific vulnerabilities and if the Landlord Tenant Board was easier to use and given greater authority to enforce its decisions.
Students would like the province to develop an inter-regional transit plan that uses universities as centralized, transit hubs. More attention should also be paid to active transportation methods. Active transit options provide healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives for commuting students and also have community benefits, such as reducing traffic congestion.
The issues discussed in this policy paper are profoundly arresting. Universities have paid for city clean-up and bylaw enforcement, students have been kept out of their homes because of opportunistic building developers and landlords, and students have found they have inequitable access to preferred fare rates. Left to sort out “town and gown” disagreements on their own, municipalities are making decisions that narrowly skirt the line between lawful and discriminatory. Students are calling for more support from the provincial government to ensure they can freely move between their universities, their homes, and their families and to ensure they are treated fairly in their new communities.
You can read the full Housing, Transit & Community Development policy paper here.