Residents Crash SFU Board of Governors Meeting

On the morning of Thursday March 26th a group of ten residents evicted from SFU’s Louis Riel House residence crashed the university’s Board of Governors meeting, demanding homes. Of the residents’ three main demands (that SFU include students in decision-making about the future of campus housing, rehouse students displaced through the closure of Louis Riel House, and replace the 210 units of housing they plan to close), the protestors focused on what spokesperson Teresa Dettling called, “the crisis issue” of rehousing evicted residents and their families.

Residents marched into the Board meeting chanting, “Rehouse students! Replace housing!” and interrupted the agenda. The meeting chair stopped the agenda and offered the floor to residents to explain their issues.

Teresa Dettling, a single parent, undergraduate student, Louis Riel House resident, and spokesperson for the group of evicted residents, stepped forward with an armload of resident declarations, letters of support, and petitions. “SFU’s decision to close Louis Riel House without offering residents alternate accommodations has thrown our lives into chaos,” she said. “We don’t know where we will live, if we can continue our studies, where our children will go to school, or what will happen to the dreams we have for our children’s futures.”

Molly Cooperman, a single parent resident of Louis Riel House, presented the results of a door-to-door survey that compiled tenant re-housing needs. “Every one of the one hundred people losing their housing through the closure of Louis Riel House has their own specific needs, but there are some principles that we all need met,” she said. “Residents all moved in with the expectation that we could finish our degrees while living in campus housing. We want to be rehoused on campus at the same rents we planned around with the incomes we have from our program funding and jobs.”

The resident-survey found that the numbers of students needing support to stay on campus are modest. “Rehousing students is not only the right thing for SFU to do, it’s also do-able,” Cooperman said. Out of those surveyed, only twenty families need 2-bedroom units, and twelve more need support to find 1-bedroom units on campus. “If SFU refuses to support these families they’re displacing, it will be to their shame,” she said.

Later in the meeting, the Board of Governors took up the Louis Riel House closure as an agenda point and the rehousing of displaced students and their families was a main concern.

University president Andrew Petter brushed off a discussion over whether or not students had been promised four years in residence. “Rather than go back to who said what to whom, we should look forward,” he said. “We need to ensure that all residents at Louis Riel House are suitably rehoused according to their needs. We all feel for the sense of dislocation and vulnerability these residents feel. We know they need not only housing but associated services, like education and childcare.” Although he did not commit to specific actions, Petter made a strong statement of principle that the university would “take action to ensure individual residents find the housing they need before Louis Riel House closes in August.”

Underlying Petter’s commitment to action is a recent letter signed by 182 SFU professors, which “called upon the university to provide long-term, affordable housing for these vulnerable students.” President Petter framed his comments about the university’s commitment to rehousing students as a response to the 182-professor letter.

Since the beginning of March when residence received notices of the closure of Louis Riel, every major SFU student association has endorsed the residents’ three demands and written letters calling for the university to stop their displacement.

As the agenda point closed, Teresa Dettling stood in the audience gallery and addressed the Board of Governors again. She said residents are frustrated that, so far, university re-housing support has been limited to “help with navigating CraigsList postings,” and she hoped president Petter’s promises would mean finding family housing on campus and at affordable rents. “We would rather work with SFU to fight the province for the funding to maintain and build student housing,” she said. “Our fight is not just about the residents who happen to live here now. I care about the single mother that I don’t know who will come here after me. I want to make sure there is space for her in the future at SFU and in housing.”

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MLA blames province for SFU residence closure

by  Wanda Chow – Burnaby NewsLeader

posted Mar 24, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin -

Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin— Image Credit: 

The impending closure of Louis Riel House Residence at Simon Fraser University is a direct result of provincial funding and debt policies, says Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin.

The 45-year-old residence is closing at the end of August due to ongoing concerns about its structure and indoor air quality, and the fact the mechanical systems and building envelope are coming to the end of their service life, according to an SFU statement earlier this month.
Currently, only 58 per cent of the 210 units are occupied.
“The closure comes after years of chronic underfunding for maintenance needs at SFU by the B.C. provincial government,” said Chardaye Bueckert, president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, in a letter of support for Riel residents.
The society is “actively advocating for the provincial government to provide more funding to address maintenance needs and to prioritize measures that will allow for more student housing on campus,” Bueckert said.
For years, the family-oriented residence has had ongoing issues with mould and other concerns, said Shin, whose riding includes the SFU campus. The closure will force 20 families to move and try to find new homes in a tight rental market where it will be difficult to find affordable family housing close to the Burnaby Mountain campus.
Over the years, wings of the residence have had to be closed as its conditions worsened, and closing the entire building is the final step, Shin said.
“Talk about a waste of our capital infrastructure that our taxpayers’ dollars paid for. That could have given us a lot more shelf life had they been maintained properly.”
Shin has visited the residence and other similarly-affected buildings on the SFU campus, noting this is just one example of a wider problem of deferred maintenance at B.C. universities. She was to raise the issue in the legislature this week.
SFU was unable to properly maintain the residence because of cuts to capital funding resulting in less money for maintenance, she said in an interview.
The other major stumbling block is that the provincial government prohibits post-secondary institutions from taking on loans because it counts towards the government’s debt load, Shin noted.
Pat Hibbitts, SFU’s vice-president of finance, said the cuts in provincial capital funding have been an issue but not one that actually applies to student residences, only academic buildings.
Such residences have not been eligible for provincial funding for many years, as they are expected to be self-funded through rental revenues, Hibbitts said.
However, within the last 10 years, post-secondary institutions were prohibited from borrowing, something SFU would have done in the past to maintain a building such as Louis Riel House and even construct new buildings.
But “even on a building that is supported by a business case, non-taxpayer-supported debt,” it’s still not allowed, she said.
In fact, five to seven years ago, SFU sought a private partner to help operate and maintain the building but couldn’t find one willing to get involved without a guarantee, Hibbitts said.
“In the eyes of the accountants over in Victoria, giving a guarantee is the same thing as taking on debt. So we weren’t allowed to do it. So that’s really the issue.”
As for the fate of Louis Riel House, Hibbitts said it will likely be demolished and a new residence eventually built on its site.
“But again, we’d have to find a way to do that without taking on debt.”
“Simon Fraser University is responsible for managing its resources including student housing,” responded the Ministry of Advanced Education in an emailed statement.
Since 2001, the ministry has provided $64.5 million to SFU, for capital and facilities maintenance. “In 2014/15, for example, government is providing SFU with $2.2 million for capital maintenance projects such as replacing and upgrading water pipes.”
As for borrowing, “any taxpayer-supported debt on the books of a publicly funded post-secondary institution is also on the books of the provincial government,” the ministry confirmed.
“The ministry is working with the public post-secondary institutions to explore the possibility of a self-supporting model to finance student residences. It’s up to each institution to develop a proposal and bring it to the ministry for discussion.”

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

We’re in the news!

This morning we held a press conference outlining everything that’s happened with Louis Riel House. Media outlets have been sharing our story all afternoon. Here are links to all the online articles that we know of so far.

Georgia Straight
SFU’s closure of Louis Riel House upsets students with families

The Province (2 articles)
‘Slumlord’ SFU accused of letting apartment complex fall apart to hurry evictions
SFU apartment residents facing eviction with fear

Calgary Herald
‘Slumlord’ SFU accused of letting apartment complex fall apart to hurry evictions

CKNW
SFU students dependent on low-income housing worried for future

Global News
SFU residence shut down over safety concerns leaving students in limbo

24 Hours
SFU families want to stay in ‘slum’

Metro
SFU to shut down aging student residence at Burnaby campus

News1130
SFU’s “Louis Riel” student housing is closing down this August

Vancouver Sun
Simon Fraser University gives up on family residence after years of maintenance neglect

Glass City
Parent students at SFU outraged over early housing eviction, call SFU ‘slumlords’

Victoria Times-Colonist
After years of neglect, Simon Fraser gives up on family residence

Thank you, Highland Pub!

We want to take a moment to thank the Highland Pub for their kindness and generosity. During our last organizing meeting on Friday night, when our kids were getting restless and hungry in the next room, the Highland Pub donated food, including pizza and chicken strips, for the kids to eat. Imagine how excited they were!

You can find the Highland Pub at the top floor of the Maggie Benson Centre. They are open Monday and Tuesday, from 11am to 11pm, and Wednesday through Friday from 11am to midnight. Thank them by buying a drink or two (if you’re under 19 or keeping sober, you can thank them by going to the SFSS to show your gratitude)! They’ll appreciate the business, and you’ll have a good time.

For more information about the pub, go to http://highland.sfss.ca

This has happened elsewhere

Back in 2012, the family residents of UBC faced a similar fate. They were renovicted from their homes on campus, despite heavy opposition, after which their homes were replaced with market housing. These homes are now expensive and inaccessible to low-income families.

Photo courtesy of The Ubyssey. Photographer: Kai Jacobson.

Photo courtesy of The Ubyssey. Photographer: Kai Jacobson.

“In Febuary, UBC told the students and their families living there that the 40-year-old buildings will be demolished, and that residents will be relocated into other UBC housing. Despite a petition signed by over 200 frustrated residents, UBC says it will push forward with its plans to build market housing on the land.”

Source: http://ubyssey.ca/news/acadia-courts-relocation-876/

This is what these homes were replaced with: http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/residences/acadia-park/

From the UBC Housing Website (see link).

From the UBC Housing Website (see link).

As you can see from the link, the prices are unreasonable for students already saddled with high tuition fees and extra costs related to their studies. Rent now ranges from $1061 to $1854 per month. The residences are beautiful to live in, for sure, but students and their families don’t need beautiful homes — we need affordable homes.