New year, new situation? Laurier and UW hope to give student housing a new face in 2020

Photo by Darien Funk

Students in the Waterloo Region have known for some time that housing across the city is growing to be increasingly unattainable for students and lucrative for corporations.

After this fall’s Accomod8u scandal and a number of online exposées against popular student rental company KW4Rent, student housing in Waterloo became a hot button issue yet again.

Both companies came under fire for their treatment of student tenants, and during online discussions on Reddit and Facebook, it was revealed that both are currently owned by the same parent company, Prica Global Enterprises.

At the time of The Cord’s coverage on these issues, Accommod8u, KW4Rent and Prica Global Enterprises did not respond to our request for comment.

While student housing issues like the ignorance of maintenance requests, lack of smoke and CO detectors and illegal landlord entry are nothing new, students have opted for the first time to not only share but expose these issues through online platforms.

The original exposing of Accommod8u occurred on Reddit, but as the news spread and students renting from other management companies came forward, Facebook has become the platform to spread resistance among students from UW, Laurier and Conestoga College alike.

Sylvia Skoruch is one of those students, and based on her experiences with KW4Rent, Skoruch started the Facebook group “STUDENT HOUSING CRISIS IN WATERLOO.”

Along with a handful of other motivated student activists, Skoruch has used the platform to organize talks with the City of Waterloo and tabled a master document of student housing issues that were submitted to Queens’ Park via Waterloo M.P.P. Catherine Fife.

Thanks to Skoruch and her work, some notable progress has been made at the municipal level. “On Nov. 29 we had a meeting with Shane Turner, the Director of Municipal Enforcement Services… as well as with Jeff Henry, the councillor for Ward 6 – the student area,” Skoruch said.

“We asked what’s been done and we talked about maintenance issues. They looked at the fire safety piece, but only 13 people have actually called the City in recent months … but clearly there’s more [issues].”

“We also suggested a blacklist, like what they have in Toronto where [there is] a list of all the developers and buildings to not work with – to not associate with those buildings or companies … They’re not going to take this approach because they want to maintain positive relationships within the city,” Skoruch said.

Thanks to Skoruch and her fellow activists’ hard work, it can certainly be said that students’ relationships with city officials are strengthening – but Skoruch also believes that amending policy with large corporations won’t fix everything. And although Skoruch is a UW student, her work remains integral to the housing situation on the Golden Hawk-dominant side of town. As a relatively new resident of the Ezra Ave. area, Skoruch has had to deal with excessive noise, trash disposal issues and other various safety concerns since her move-in.

“I don’t have anyone to go to to complain,” Skoruch said.

In order to address this, Skoruch suggested some sort of a neighbourhood watch, which would aim to ensure student safety within the boroughs best known for persistent partying and petty crime.

Perhaps this could be managed by the City and the local Universities – or both. But it’s for certain that much still needs to be done, not only in regard to landlords but in regard to student-driven parties that create safety and housing issues for residents who choose not to participate.

After discussing the municipal progress with Skoruch, it also became clear that universities have a large part to play when it comes to student housing issues. The WLU Students’ Union has significant stakes in Golden Hawks’ housing issues, many of which can be addressed through the Student Rights Advisory Committee under the department of University Affairs.

It’s also important to highlight that the WLU Students’ Union is at the height of its election season, and although it wasn’t mentioned directly on either platform, student housing is a hot-button issue for candidates Leah Xuereb and Devyn Kelly.

Both candidates acknowledged that student housing is problematic in Waterloo, and that as potential presidents, they would be ready and willing to collaborate with the University Affairs department to ensure increased access to housing-related services for WLU students.

“Student housing is a huge issue that I would obviously have to keep in mind if I were elected,” Xuereb said in an interview.

“And I know Sylvia [Skoruch] is spearheading this whole thing, so having discussions with people who are passionate about it [is key].”

“When I was building my platform I talked to so many people and it was brought up a few times. I want to work towards finding a solution, or help in general,” she said.

Xuereb also expressed her desire to work more frequently with the Student Rights Advisory Committee (SRAC), but also with WUSA (Waterloo Undergraduate Students Association) and OUSA (Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance) in order to achieve more widespread change.

Candidate Devyn Kelly is hoping to use her experience from working in other Students’ Union departments to ensure campus-wide awareness of SRAC services and activities.

“One of the things that needs to change is the awareness around what SRAC does on campus,” Kelly said. “There needs to be stronger digital promotion … one of the things you don’t see a lot of is promotion of SRAC and outreach events on campus.”

Kelly assured this is something she would like to tend to – especially for first-year students, many of whom will be signing their first-ever leases before their first semester is even over.

On Tuesday Jan. 21, the SRAC held a public event featuring trivia and games with the goal of making their services known to students as well as assisting in tenant rights-related education.

Subsequent events of the same nature will take place on Feb. 11 and Mar. 24 in the concourse, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

At the event, Skye Nip, Assistant Vice President of University Affairs (Waterloo) also stated that digital promotion of events is key to campus knowledge of SRAC events and services.

In regards to SRAC outreach with City officials, Nip provided some positive updates:

“Next week we’re actually meeting with a lot of city councillors… and we’ll be advocating for [the] expansion of the bylaws [to high rise buildings],” Nip said.

“We also want to work on reduced harm for large, unsanctioned street gatherings and pedestrian safety at night.”

This would likely aim to address the concerns of Sylvia Skoruch and other residents of the Ezra Ave. area.

Despite all of these advancements, the question of whether or not student housing in this new year will see itself take on a new reality remains partially unanswered.

The result of the upcoming Students’ Union elections will certainly impact housing activism for the upcoming year, but in the meantime, other students like Skoruch will continue to advocate independently until some policy resolutions are made.

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