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News - All - 17 Nov 2019

News Item 123 of 4763 

Miscellaneous: 17 Nov 2019
'What are they going to say if I'm found dead?': Waterloo students demand action on housing

From left: David Moscoe, Sylvia Skoruch and Kiran Maldonado believe the city could be doing more to help alleviate rental housing issues facing students, and they've created an action plan. - Bill Jackson/Torstar

While recent news about student housing has focused on ongoing maintenance problems and inadequate living conditions, Kiran Maldonado has another perspective on how dire the situation is for some.

The international student from the U.S. said he’s been forced to sleep on the street in Waterloo’s university district using a bag of dirty laundry as a pillow.

The New Jersey native, now a fourth-year student majoring in political science, said he had housing for his first three semesters of university before finding an affordable place to live became a problem he couldn't seem to overcome.

While searching, he slept at a friend’s place at first, then used Airbnb. He once overpaid $650 for a five-night stay – slightly more than his current monthly rent – but when he didn’t get receipt of confirmation another night, Maldonado said he had nowhere to turn.

Weeks of refreshing posts on Kijiji and Facebook proved extremely frustrating.

“Unless you applied to someone posting a sublet in the first three minutes of it getting posted and offered $100 over asking price per month, you had a next to zero chance of actually getting housing,” he said.

“They’re like mosquitoes — as soon as someone posts a sublet, all these students swarm it like piranhas,” says Sylvia Skoruch, a fellow student and Maldonado’s friend who’s leading a charge calling on local politicians to make policy changes that can improve rental housing conditions and force landlords to deal with issues such as bedbugs, cockroaches and the provision of basic utilities more expediently.

Skoruch's website 'Student Housing Crisis in Waterloo' currently has more than 1,600 followers.

While more affordable housing can’t be built overnight, students say that politicians and local universities could plan better and implement more proactive policies to improve property standards in the short-term.

Skoruch said she leased a new apartment on Lester Street this past September before being told at the last minute that she’d have to cancel it because her unit wouldn’t be ready for months. Then, just a few weeks later, it was leased to someone else.

She said her story isn't unique, unfortunately.

Because she couldn't find suitable housing, Skoruch said she’s been forced to commute back and forth from Mississauga as a result which has impacted her studies and her ability to function as a French language teaching assistant.

At a recent student tenancy rights information meeting at the University of Waterloo, organized by the students’ union and attended by local city councillors, municipal staff and MPP Catherine Fife, Skoruch presented a list of short-term goals she’d like the city to consider, including instituting a bylaw stipulating only finished rental units can be leased.

Students believe the city could amend bylaws in some cases and begin drafting a plan for a more proactive approach to maintenance issues in rental properties.

Skoruch spoke before city councillors in October when she said some seemed in favour of considering some stricter policies. However Shamir Mehta, manager of licensing a bylaw enforcement, said there are currently no changes being contemplated to the city’s property standards.

“But it’s not an issue that can’t be visited,” he conceded.

The information meeting, which included a presentation on tenancy rights by Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, saw bureaucrats handing out information brochures pertaining to property standards and the complaints process.

“I’m sensing just based on some of the questions and interactions, there may be a bit of a disconnect in terms of the information and resources that are already out there,” Mehta said.

Local Coun. Tenille Bonoguore said she was also there to listen and open to working towards solutions, but that policy changes will likely need to happen at the provincial level too.

Fife said changes to the Ontario Building Code and Residential Tenancies Act, which are within the province’s purview, are in some cases needed so cities have tools and mechanisms for better enforcement. She said there’s too often "imbalance" when it comes to student-landlord relationships, not only in Waterloo, but other college and university towns across Ontario.

“I’ve been the MPP in Waterloo for the past seven years and every year that has passed, the stories, the stress, the tension that students feel around housing keep getting worse,” she said. “We know there are students living in cars or who are couch surfing. We can do better and need to do better.”

Fife said she doesn’t have all the answers but is willing to work to find them.

Meanwhile students like David Moscoe, who's had difficulty getting his landlord to complete simple tasks at times, says that municipalities have to take charge via enforcement.

“We need to be diligent and still work and make sure that they will intervene when they have the authority and ability to do so,” he said.

The students also hold local post-secondary schools responsible for the current housing climate.

Skoruch contends that an influx of international students — most recently due to the new Conestoga College campus — has saturated the student housing market, making it difficult to accommodate the numbers enrolled in new programs.

“They aren’t working with anyone to determine how much housing is available,” Maldonado said. “They just admit so many hundreds and thousands of students total and those students have to find housing on their own, because the amount of dorms doesn’t even come close to the students they admit…

“What I want to know is — what are the politicians and university going to say if I’m found dead or another student is found frozen to death in the street?”

Bill Jackson
by Bill Jackson

Bill Jackson is Reporter/Photographer with the Waterloo Chronicle. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter and the Chronicle on Facebook
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Bill Jackson Waterloo Chronicle/AA

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