Lack of affordable housing at York University

Affordable housing has become a major global issue due to gentrification, increasing property values and the sky-high rents. Access to affordable housing movement is popping up in major cities in order to mobilize against the rising housing costs and increasing homelessness. It is easy to talk about creating affordable housing. However, the creation of it is extremely difficult as people or organizations have to pass through red tape, funding shortages, lack of institutional support and bureaucratic jargon.  Affordable housing projects are created through institutional support because private businesses or corporations do not find affordable housing lucrative enough to create.

With a full time student population of around 45,095, York University is the second largest university in Canada. Most of these students are commuters, meaning that they do not live on campus and travel from their homes.

To combat this issue of affordable housing at York University, the Affordable Housing Committee at York University was established in 2016. The committee advocates and facilitates the creation of affordable cooperative housing on York University’s surplus lands. One option to create affordable housing is through an affordable co-op housing model built on surplus lands on the Keele Campus.

More than 150 housing co-ops have been established throughout Toronto and many were built through union support. However, very few new affordable housing buildings have been built since the 1990s because budget cuts to their programs. One of the last remaining housing co-ops built was the Harry Sherman Crowe Housing Co-op at York University, which was the result of the efforts of local unions.

The Affordable Housing Committee at York University’s mission statement is:

“Working to build capacity and partnerships, conduct research and applying for funding towards our goal of creating affordable housing.  We hope to see new affordable housing constructed at York University before 2024.”

The committee is made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni, retirees and members of the wider community and is supported by Regenesis, an environmental organization at York. Regenesis believes “in empowering students as initiators of change in addressing today’s social and environmental concerns, through advocacy and service in local chapters”. They “focus on real, comprehensive and practical initiatives and programs to make our campus and our communities, cities and planet more sustainable”.

The creation of affordable housing for York University students is vital because several national and international students are paying abhorrent amount of rent to York or private landowners surrounding the Keele campus for their residence. It is vital that we provide options for students to find affordable housing.

We as a community should hope for success in the creation of affordable housing at York University spearheaded and led by The Affordable Housing Committee, its supporters and donors.

Hundreds march in protest of OSAP changes and cuts

In January, hundreds of people gathered outside Queen’s Park to protest the provincial government’s plans to cut tuition grants for low and middle income students.

The Ford government announced sweeping changes to OSAP. Grants that many middle to low-income families relied on to in order to afford obtaining a post-secondary education will change. The new rules will not only greatly narrow the number of Ontarians who qualify for grants but also limit the number of those who can qualify to get OSAP loans at all.

The provincial Tories also announced that they would eliminate the 6 month grace period so recent graduates would not have to pay interest. In addition, the grant-to-loan ratio will now make it a minimum that students have to have a minimum of 50% loan – limiting the amount of grants.

Many students and critics have greatly criticized the cuts to OSAP by highlighting how they compound the problem and create more barriers for those who are seeking post-secondary education.

“The Ford government is going after low-income and middle-income students by cutting grants, making loan support harder to get, and cranking up the amount of interest they’ll pay,” MPP Chris Glover from Spadina-Fork York said, “This is going to mean more debt, holding back young people already desperate for relief from debt.”

The PCs softened the blow of these changes by adding that they would cut tuition by 10% and would freeze it at the same rate for the following year. The 10% cut will come from the funding the government pays institutions.

This will force schools to restructure their budget and many are skeptical that the difference will come from the salaries of high-up administration but rather will come from schools’ bursary funds, course allocation, and student support systems.

Glover predicts that courses will be cancelled, classes size will grow, and contract faculty will be laid-off as a result. He added that it is the students who will pay for these cuts by receiving, “two years of a lower quality education — followed by skyrocketing tuition in 2021 to make up for the shortfall.”

Many have criticized that the 10% cut in tuition as deceitful and as a strategic move to distract from the cuts to the grant and loan supports.

OSAP’s crippling levels of interest rates and the huge burden of debt that too many young Ontarians are forced to grapple with has made this a dire situation. Ontarians who pursued post-secondary education are already under stress and Ford’s moves will make future decisions to pursue post-secondary education even more difficult.

The previous OSAP system was rightly criticized because of its high interest rates and its scant debt relief options, but the PC government’s changes to OSAP have made it even more dysfunctional.

“The government should not be cutting grants, it should be converting [already existing OSAP] loans to grants and eliminating all interest,” Chris Glover noted.

One thing we know for sure is that making OSAP more unmanageable and creating more barriers to access post-secondary education has inspired thousands to take to the streets and protest.

Nurturing potential, showcasing excellence

Currently only 1.2% of Ontario’s apprentices are represented by racialized individuals in the construction industry. Through Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) Black Youth are slowly being hired onto the construction sites of large Canadian infrastructure projects. CBAs are also opening opportunities for small to medium sized businesses interested in penetrating the Canadian construction supply chain.

On Tuesday, December 12, the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) hosted a breakfast to officially launch their Black Youth Mentoring Program. The plan applies a 2-pronged approach to changing the narrative around Black Youth. The first piece will mentor qualified Black Youth construction workers apprenticing in the trades known as the “Next-Gen-Builders” program. The second part will enhance the skills of a Black Youth consultancy known as the BYD Team. The goal of BYD Team is to fulfil on current and grow future construction industry social procurement strategies.

The Black Youth Mentoring Program Launch, which took place in the beautiful University of Toronto Faculty Club, was a fantastic experience. It was amazing to be in that room where high level representatives from the construction trades and industry professionals, mingled with equity seeking community members. It was especially refreshing to hear some of the Black Youth apprentices recently welcomed into the Canadian construction industry, speak of reluctance replaced by optimism through TCBN’s new mentoring program. Also interesting was hearing Pat Dillon, Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, voice his support for TCBN and community efforts by recommending they approach the struggle “more aggressively”. With high profile support from the likes of Dillon, community must be optimistic that integrating the construction industry in the lifetime of today’s youth is a real possibility, right?

Also inspiring were the words of Grover Johnson, Vice President of the American chapter of LiUNA’s African American Caucus. Grover’s words clearly indicated the American Community Benefits movement is far ahead of our own. In his home state of Washington, they have progressed beyond the need to negotiate a CBA for every capital project, it is now policy. They now move directly to Workforce Development Agreements. It really goes to show that what we hear so frequently in the news about our neighbours to the south may be the cries from a group of reactionaries who are in their final death throes. These are certainly exciting times for the Canadian community benefits movement.