Last week, the provincial government announced it will work on improved protection for students living in university residences.
Gord Mackintosh, minister of family services and consumer affairs, and Diane McGifford, minister of advanced education, met with Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) representatives and Rebecca Bock-Freeman, director of student living for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) on March 17 to discuss the need for more support for student housing.
“A lot of students living in residences are first-year students or international students and they just don’t know their rights,” said Bock-Freeman, who was instrumental in getting the initiative started.
Issues around rent control are also prominent problems for those living on numerous campuses.
For example, at Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, rental prices for residences have been increasing by 10 per cent for the past three years.
Bock-Freeman’s goal is to get university residences covered under the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure rent control, a neutral body of appeals and security.
“The housing department and the university are fundamentally intertwined and there is no neutral place to take your concerns to,” Bock-Freeman said. “With the Manitoba Residential Tenancies Act, they have a branch you can bring your appeals to.”
The UWSA and CFS have been working on covering student residences under the Residential Tenancies Act since December.
“We haven’t set a specific timeline, but there is going to be a working group that contains the Council on Post Secondary Education, the government, CFS and Residential Tenancies Act,” said Alanna Mackinson, Manitoba chairperson for CFS. “We’re working hard to move this quickly.”
Currently, student residences aren’t under the act because they contain shared living spaces. Bock-Freeman hopes to work with the government in creating special conditions for campus residences under the act.
Sam Hanson understands the concerns of students living in residences all too well.
In September, the second-year criminal justice student was fined for having an unauthorized party in Lions Manor, one of U of W’s three residence options.
When she tried to appeal the fine, she found out she was appealing it to the same people who had fined her.
“(You can be fined for) anything from having a couple beers, having a coffee maker in your room, being rude to security (or) having a messy room. ... (The housing staff) don’t specify as to what constitutes fines,” said Hanson.
Punishment can include fines, eviction or writing papers specific to the offence.
If the campaign to have student housing covered under the act succeeds, it will mean Manitoba will be the first province in the country with this type of residence protection.
“As students at the U of W, we’re not just fighting for our rights on this campus, it’s actually for universities around the province, too. We’re standing in solidarity with all the campuses,” said Bock-Freeman.
Published in Volume 65, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 24, 2011)