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.”