Concordia’s Cooperative Student Housing Project: The Woodnote

By Amanda Murphy, based off an interview with Madelaine (Marketing and Communications Intern) and Cleopatra (Support Member), staff from the Concordia Student Union’s Housing and Job Office (HOJO)

Over the course of the 2018-2019 school year, the Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) and the Housing and Job Office (HOJO) of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) will oversee the construction of a 147-unit building, which by September 2019 will become a housing cooperative especially for Concordia Students. UTILE is a local non-profit organization working to develop cooperative student housing in Québec since 2012, and this is the first cooperative they’re constructing.

This project came about in response to a clear need for better student housing. In 2014, HOJO and UTILE collaborated to run a study on the state of housing specifically for Concordia students. The results of this study found that students pay 19-81% more on average for rent than other “Montréal” residents. This number varies based on different factors, with international students paying some of the most inflated rents, and students originally from the province of Québec paying rents most similar to non-student Montréalers. Student housing was also much more likely to be in poorer condition, with higher instances of pests, non-functional heating, and more landlords who refused to fix problems or to provide general upkeep.

In 2015, after the results of this survey were published, the CSU ran a referendum asking to create the PUSH fund, a 1.85 million revolving fund that will be invested by UTILE to create student housing cooperatives. This fund works as a loan, and will be paid back and then re-invested into future projects. The referendum achieved unprecedented approval, with an 89% yes vote. From this, the Woodnote project was born.   

The coop, named The Woodnote, will be located near the corner of Papineau and Sherbrooke, just across from Parc La Fontaine. There will be 3.5, 4.5 and 5.5 units (i.e. 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartments) available, and apartment layouts will be designed with the priorities of diverse students in mind (roommates, student families), and taking into account accessibility needs. Exact prices are not yet available, but rents will be 15-20% below the average market value for the area, and rent increases will be controlled.

The influx of hundreds of students into one block brings with it concerns of gentrification. As it says in QPIRG Concordia’s 2012 publication Gentrify This! A student’s guide to understanding and resisting gentrification:

“Whether we like it or not, students are part and parcel of the process of gentrification. As a generally low-income population, we tend to migrate
towards the affordable rents of working class neighbourhoods. But we seldom stay in an apartment for long and usually don’t know our rights as tenants, allowing landlords to continue profiting from crumbling apartment buildings and then to increase the rent indiscriminately upon our departure.”

HOJO assures that the impact that any student housing project will have on a neighbourhood is at the forefront of their concerns, and that this model of student living actually works against gentrification. When students pay higher prices for housing it benefits no one in the neighbourhood (except greedy landlords). Creating housing exclusively for students prevents gentrification by taking student renters out of the regular housing market, so that they can’t inflate prices by agreeing to pay more than a neighbourhood average.

Fighting gentrification is also about creating intentional and engaged communities, so any project which encourages thoughtful ways of living and community participation also works against gentrification. Students who need to take a more active role in making decisions about their living conditions and the community they would like to create are more likely to engage with and understand larger community struggles, and to stay longer and become more rooted in a neighbourhood. The Woodnote has received overwhelming community support from the inhabitants of the neighbourhood where it’s being built, in part because UTILE and the CSU have worked with members of the community to set priorities and respond to the concerns and needs of the neighbourhood. As a result of these community consultations, designs for a green alley have been added to the building, with a fence blocking it off from the street, so that neighbourhood children have a safe space to play.

The Woodnote’s target move-in date for the first student occupants is September 2019. Applications will open up early in the Winter 2019 semester, so keep an eye out if you’re interested. All candidates will be
approved by a selection committee, which will do it’s best to prioritize students with more precarious financial situations, and to build a community that reflects the diversity of Concordia’s student body. UTILE hopes that the success of The Woodnote will serve as a jumping off point which will allow them to find funding to build many other university housing cooperatives around the city, and ultimately to create a network of student housing cooperatives across Québec.

HOJO+QPRIG’s handy tips for reducing the effects of gentrification on your neighbourhood:

When you move out, transfer your lease so the rent and conditions won’t be changed unduly for new tenants. If this isn’t possible, leave a copy of your old lease in your house when you move out, or give it directly to the new tenants, so they know for sure what your rent was, and can contest an undue increase with the régie.

Refuse your rent increase. If your landlord tries to increase your rent, you can contest it with the régie. When you move into an apartment you have 10 days to open a case for a rent increase refusal if the terms of the
previous rent are clearly indicated on your lease, or two months if the old rent is not indicated, or you find out it was falsified.     

Pressure your landlord to keep up with repairs, so that buildings stay maintained and conditions stay livable.

Get to know your neighbourhood and get involved in local struggles + committees, especially groups working against gentrification.