Loose Cannon: Council reaps what it sows on student housing

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1 Comment

Written by Greg Beneteau

It was déjà vu all over again.

Monday night’s City Council meeting, during which citizens and community groups weighed in on a controversial proposal to build high-rise apartment complex across from the University of Guelph, had an all too familiar ring to it.

There were concerns that such a high concentration of students in one area would create a ghetto, preventing newcomers to Guelph from integrating into the community. Others worried about what impact the apartments would have on the surrounding community in terms of aesthetics/noise/garbage/parking/”insert issue here”.

The same clichéd arguments came up time and time again last fall, when councillors approved new restrictions on accessory apartments and lodging houses in the city in order to reduce the concentration of students living in the Old University neighbourhood.

During an election year, the city pandered to the demands of NIMBY-ist property owners who complained that students weren’t conducive to good neighbourhoods, despite the fact that its own bylaw enforcement data didn’t back up that claim.

It was City Council that declared open season on student rental housing. Now, it’s reaping what is has sown.

It’s an unfortunate situation, because as Council already knows, Guelph needs the kinds of apartments being proposed in order to prevent the city from growing out of control.

When people are spread out over too large an area, it creates a strain on services like transit and forces people to drive to work, compounding traffic gridlock. A keystone of the province’s growth strategy has been encouraging suburban areas to use intensification – essentially putting more people in a smaller area – in order to combat urban sprawl.

In terms of keeping a lid on sprawl, Guelph has nowhere near the problems of a Mississauga or a Brampton. However, the Royal City is still one of the fastest growing communities Canada; it will need to think carefully about its growth strategy to accommodate its growing population, which is estimated will by just shy of 200,000 by 2035.

To do that, the city needs to grow upward, not outward. Students, who occupy the lion’s share of rental properties in Guelph, are prime candidates for these kinds of apartments. Now that the availability of legal townhouse rental properties near the University has been cut, the demand for spaces near campus will be red-hot.

Sadly, opponents of the development can’t seem to accept the fact that students are capable of living in apartment buildings just like anyone else.  Anastasia Zavarella, the Central Student Association’s Local Affairs Commissioner, even expressed reservations about the plan, which would house 1,500 residents, on the grounds that it would prevent students from mingling with Guelph residents.

While I agree that in an ideal world everyone would live together and get along, right now a lot of Guelphites seem to have a serious hate-on for student renters, at least in principle. Zavarella and I both attended the Council meeting back in September, during which Old University neighbourhood residents complained about students using terms more appropriately reserved for vermin – dirty, noisy, dangerous; put too many in one place and they overrun the joint.

I hope that someday, the ageist assumptions about students will seem as outdated as the old stereotypes about blacks, Jews or gays moving in next door. In the meantime, a student apartment building would accommodate the city’s need for more intensification and meet students’ desire to live near campus - all while keeping them away from the hoity-toity neighbourhoods they apparently ruin. It sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: KM on Jan 21, 2011 @ 5:07pm

    I am all for responsible intensification for our city, but if you look at the details this project is really not the way to go.

    I live right across from the University . I get along well with all the students who live on my street and elsewhere. Living in a University city is great. My family goes to concerts, swim practices, dances, lectures and workshops at the University. We have volunteered at and watched many University sporting events ....we never miss College Royal. The University and the students give our city energy. I expect you would find that most folks in Guelph don't have a hate on for students.

    Although for many reasons, the proposal is a not a good idea for my neighbourhood, it is also not good for the students either.

    It won't solve any other neighbourhood's problems. There will always be people who don't care about their neighbours and that is something that needs to be worked on.... but this is not the answer.

    If you look at the details of this proposal from a responsible development perspective. It will eventually kill a couple hundred trees, it doesn't deliver affordable student housing, it has drastically reduced amenity and parking space and there is no green space.....the windows don't even open. If they charge 600 plus utilities to each person in a 5 bedroom unit that is far more than a shared house would ever cost.

    The GTA developer wants to make as much money as possible.This isn't a student vs. the people problem, it is just poor urban planning for our City.

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