After a successful affordable housing forum held by the Students' Union, struggling students have a reason to look forward to change. The paper presented by the SU to politicians and officials--Working Together: Finding Solutions to Affordable Accommodations for Students--carefully outlined a series of recommendations to each level of government as well as the university.
SU president Julie Bogle opened the forum with a call to government participation.
"The issue of affordable housing for students is a very important one," said Bogle. "What I really hope for in this document is collaboration on behalf of students--no one level of government can do it alone."
The main focus of the forum was to increase the number of homes through legalisation of secondary suites in all districts, and to obtain funds to build more residential buildings both on and off-campus. A universally positive response from the attendees was felt for the ultimate goal of the paper.
Calgary Currie MLA and shadow minister of municipal affairs and housing Dave Taylor expressed a strong need to be proactive.
"There's the opportunity to take a lot of simple issues and make them complicated," said Taylor. "It keeps people busy. It's easier than getting the job done. I think building 10,000 housing units on the province of Alberta is a very doable project."
Affordable housing and urban development associate minister Yvonne Fritz also focused on programs for affordable housing that were directed to all those in need--not just students. She said a total of $285 million from the provincial budget had been allocated specifically for affordable housing, with $63 million allocated directly to the city.
"That [$63 million] over the period of five years is supposed to have 11,000 units," explained Fritz.
While the panelists all agreed progress is necessary, not all were optimistic. Ward one alderman Dale Hodges maintained that the issue regarding secondary suites was more problematic than it seemed.
"Obviously there should be more affordable housing, but it's a question of financing and location," said Hodges. "There's no point of building housing if it's not affordable."
Currently, secondary suites are only legal in 50-foot lots which don't exist near the U of C campus. Illegal ones are known to exist but are not regulated by the city. Hodges described some of the dangers surrounding illegal suites including window space, suites not meeting standard fire codes and not having proper heating.
"I think the orders to bring illegal secondary suites up to code would be very interesting, said Hodges. "It sounds simple, but it isn't when you're dealing with potentially thousands."
Taylor had different con- cerns regarding the suites.
"Most illegal suites are already full," said Taylor. "We need to not get too caught up in fixing illegal suites and spending all the money there. We need to convince people to create new secondary suites in their homes."
The SU is also taking part in a Calgary Student Caucus along with Mount Royal College, SAIT and ACAD. This caucus will strictly focus on housing for students. MRC student association vice-president external Matt Koczkur is happy Calgary's institutions are working together to tackle the housing crisis. Media events have been held at different schools to draw attention to the issue while being careful not to compete.
"It needs to be both city and provincial involvement," said Koczkur. "They need to work together. It's important for the city to investigate the possibility of an off-campus residence for all schools--students from all institutions together."
Fritz was confident that change is on its way.
"I'm sure progress will be made here, people committed to things publicly," she said.