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“Shameless”: UTGSU event criticizes unaffordable housing on, off campus with MPP Jessica Bell

University rebuked for raising residence prices despite pandemic
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MILIDAE CLAIRE UY/THE VARSITY
MILIDAE CLAIRE UY/THE VARSITY

On November 25, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) hosted an event on unaffordable housing at U of T called “The Rent is Too Damn High.” The panelists’ remarks focused on the university’s decision to increase student housing prices during the pandemic, as well as broader problems in Toronto’s rent regulations and possible solutions. 

The discussion featured University—Rosedale MPP Jessica Bell, two executives from the UTGSU, and Aga Mroz, a U of T housing advocate.

Criticisms of rent increase

UTGSU University Governance Commissioner Lwanga Musisi and Mroz both condemned the “shamelessness of the administration” in raising rent during a pandemic. In his prepared remarks, Musisi explained that earlier this year, U of T increased rent in residence buildings and family housing.

At Graduate House, the only student residence at U of T serving graduate students, the rent for a single room increased from $1,102 per month in 2019–2020 to $1,168 per month in 2020–2021, an increase of approximately six per cent.

To complement Musisi’s practical knowledge, Mroz told the story of how she had to move into student housing after her previous home was bought out by a company that conducted a series of renovations with the goal of evicting its current tenants. 

Mroz said that she moved into student housing because the cost of rent was reasonable, especially for the area. However, when the pandemic hit, her building got a notice saying that the rent would be increasing by a larger amount than the mandated 2.2 per cent. 

“For our household, [that] would have meant about $150 extra each month,” Mroz said. “My immediate reaction was this was unfathomable… How could they be so callous at such a difficult time?” When an attendee asked Mroz what U of T’s justification was for raising the rent, she answered that the university had told her it was to pay its “operational costs.”

Musisi also cited financial stress from increased rent as a possible factor in the worsening mental health of students, along with increasing costs of tuition.

Broader problems and solutions

In her remarks, Bell connected the students’ remarks to a broader rent problem in Toronto. She noted that Mroz’s experience with a landlord who purposefully renovated to evict her was not an isolated case. 

According to Bell, illegal evictions have become more common because when a landlord evicts a tenant in rent controlled housing, they can increase the rent for the next tenant. Bell also criticized the decision to lift the eviction freeze that was created in response to the pandemic.

She noted that her team is working to make housing more affordable in Toronto. One of her proposed solutions is ending vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to raise the price of rent as much as they want after they have evicted a tenant. Furthermore, Bell emphasized the importance of making the housing market more transparent for regulation enforcement. 

All three panelists mentioned that working as a collective would make any action toward affordable housing more powerful. “I think we can all take away that we are stronger as a community in the face of these adversities,” Danielle Karakas, the event’s moderator and the UTGSU’s civics and environmental commissioner, concluded in her closing remarks.