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MacKinnon questioned provincial and municipal officials about affordable housing on Monday.
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Housing debate continues, slowly

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While progress on affordable housing for students is as slow as any other university related project, it has not been forgotten.

Provincial politicians met with Calgary officials and the Students' Union on Monday to discuss different ways to increase affordable housing. Calgary-Currie Liberal MLA Dave Taylor met with others in a sparsely attended forum in the MacEwan Student Centre south courtyard.

"My point as the former Liberal urban affairs critic would be that we aren't doing enough, fast enough," said Taylor. "Somebody has to take the leadership on this one. It makes sense that the provincial government should be taking a lead role."

Associate minister of affordable housing and urban development Yvonne Fritz argued the SU took leadership on the project with the "Working Together: Finding Solutions to Affordable Accommodations for Students" policy paper with goals and recommendations released last year.

The paper led to an inter-institutional residence study to determine the feasibility of housing for students from multiple post-secondary institutions near a major transit route. The provincial government matched SU funds of $50,000 for the study. The SU released a request for proposal and is hoping to choose a company by mid-October to conduct the study. Its tentative deadline is January 2009.

SU vice-president external Alastair MacKinnon, the moderator of the event, asked what would be necessary to reach a 15 per cent on-campus population. The U of C has space for about seven per cent while the University of Alberta can fit 12.2 per cent.

"We would need substantial investment to make that happen," said U of C assistant vice-president student services Jim Dunsdon.

He explained that residence budgets usually break even because of new construction and deferred maintenance. The forum then focused on the possibility of ending municipal property taxes on residence buildings.

"On campus residence is not specifically a city concern," said Ward 11 Ald. Brian Pincott. "Currently, the municipal taxes do get a considerable break."

Residence pays $240,000 a year in municipal property taxes. Taylor made the point that the provincial government could help by paying the tax for the university.

"Having access to that [money] will allow us to increase our own maintenance budget by 20 per cent," Dunsdon replied.

He added the U of C is one of the few universities in the country paying these taxes.

Pincott mentioned secondary suites as an important part of an affordable housing solution. It was a major point in last year's policy paper, but little progress has been made on that front. Pincott called for the city to legalize secondary suites so tenants living in illegal ones will have rights. He claimed there are currently between 15,000 and 18,000 illegal suites in the city.

SU president Dalmy Baez was satisfied with the progress.

"Our job as the SU is to advocate for students," she said. "We are the student voice on this and we're pleased to see the positive response from the city, province and university."

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