When the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President Operations Samir Mechel presented the union’s 2022–2023 audited financial statements at its November 19 Annual General Meeting, he didn’t mention any property acquisitions. However, the financial statements shared at the meeting reveal that the UTSU has achieved a dream that seems out of reach for many Torontonians — the union now owns a house.
The UTSU purchased the house for $2,250,000 on July 28, 2023, through a combination of cash and a mortgage. The house serves as a home for students in the union’s Student Refugee Program (SRP).
The Student Refugee Program
“The primary aim of this initiative is to offer second-year (and in the future, second and up) U of T students who are part of SRP an opportunity to develop life skills while living among their peers,” wrote UTSU President Elizabeth Shechtman in an email to The Varsity, about the union’s house acquisition.
The SRP is primarily organized by the UTSU and World University Service Canada (WUSC), an organization that aims to provide education, economic opportunities, and empowerment to marginalized youth in countries across the Global South and in Canada, focusing on refugees and women.
Since 2003, the UTSU has sponsored student refugees participating in the SRP through the WUSC student levy, which undergraduate students support through a fee of $2.16 per semester in both the fall and winter semesters. U of T itself also contributes to the program.
Currently, the UTSU program accepts one or two students each year on an alternating basis, meaning there are six students in the program at any given time. In the past, students enrolled in the SRP have come from countries including Uganda, Kenya, Syria, and Nigeria.
First-year SRP students live in residence at New College. During their first year, the UTSU supports SRP students by providing them with clothing and food. Once the SRP students enter their second year, they move into the house. The UTSU then “provides the students with work opportunities through part-time jobs,” according to Shechtman, including employment at the UTSU itself.
New College and the U of T registrar provide additional funding to cover the students’ tuition. SRP students are also supported by the UTSU-New College Local Committee, which is a group of UTSU and New College representatives who assist the students with navigating campus and the Toronto context. Shechtman said that the local committee helps the students find employment, provides them with English-learning resources, and helps out with other needs.
Shechtman explained that in any given year, three to four SRP students will reside in the house at no cost. The union hopes that this bridges the transition “between on-campus residence and independent living, thereby fostering stability in [students’] lives.”
The first cohort of second-year students currently sponsored by the SRP moved into the house in fall 2023, according to Shechtman.
The house is in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. It’s approximately 3,000 square feet and includes five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
According to Shechtman, “Acquiring this property allows the UTSU to have a tangible asset that aligns with [their] long-term financial goals.”
She explained that the UTSU had acquired the house through a mortgage, which she described as a “strategic move” that helped the union secure a place for the students to live while potentially helping the union’s future finances.
Disclosure: Elizabeth Shechtman was an Associate News Editor for The Varsity during the 2021–2022 school year.
Editor’s note (February 9): A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the UTSU levy at the time of publication was 76 cents per semester. The current UTSU levy is $2.16 per semester.