Last week 10 community associations sent a letter to Ottawa’s Mayor, decrying the further development of off-campus housing and the conversion of traditional residences for student use. The reasons cited for the freeze included the need to stop the “degradation of traditional residential neighbourhoods,” in order to “ensure the character of our communities.”
Indeed, many of Ottawa’s communities feature older buildings, which come with long-term residents or rooted families. Having an influx of 20-somethings into these neighbourhoods can indeed present problems. One of them includes the transient nature of postsecondary students; once the first term of a lease or rent is up, the option to move on is always there. Furthermore, if the current residents leave for the summer, there will be another round of sublets who move in for the four-month period. Finally, there is an issue with renovating houses for increased capacity: Developers or private citizens who take a four-bedroom dwelling and convert it to accommodate 13 students.
However, the call for a total ban on off-campus housing, both developed at a university level and through private conversion projects, is an inappropriate, and ultimately discriminatory measure.
Every year, just under 100,000 full-time students enroll at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Algonquin College. Even if only a third need housing, the demand for housing greatly exceeds the supply. Campus accommodation in first year is still very limited. uOttawa has a capacity of roughly 3000, Carleton at maximum capacity can hold 3617, and Algonquin can hold 1050. At peak periods, which is the opening of most registrations in June, all three institutions have extensive waiting lists.
uOttawa does not have more space to develop residences. While the same cannot be said for Carleton, which is laying plans for a new residence, the Glebe Community Association was not supportive of a ban on student housing. Many students I have spoken to were discouraged by the idea, as it leaves them in a more difficult situation once they leave residence.
Community associations that oppose student housing do not want students overrunning their neighbourhoods. They are afraid that a younger crowd brings with it drunken, late-night antics and parties with the potential to burn down the block. If there is an inability to respect one’s property or the community-at-large, than perhaps that area is not best suited for certain individuals and bylaw enforcement officers should be active. Yet framing all students as troublemakers, is prejudicial to the approval process of new development and unfair to students.
Harrison Boyd is a journalism and law student at Carleton University.