Possible end to housing subsidy for students

On the heels of the Ontario government’s recent approval of private universities comes potential legislation that has the province’s student organizations livid again.

Provincial cabinet documents leaked to the Globe and Mail last week show the government is debating making students collecting loans under the Ontario Student Assistance Program ineligible for subsidized housing.

Janet Mason, Assistant Deputy Minister Policy Division for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, is upset by the leak.

"It isn’t legislation, it isn’t a proposal, it was a report in the newspaper on a leaked cabinet document, so it doesn’t really have any status at all," she said. "It isn’t government policy. Everything is business as usual."

Nonetheless, student leaders were quick to react against the possible legislation, stating it shows the government is planning to take benefits away from legitimate student candidates seeking financial assistance.

"Unfortunately, the government is calling it double dipping, which is clearly not the case," said Ryan Parks, Executive Director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. "If I’m receiving some form of housing assistance, the government is just loaning me money for my education which I’m expected to pay back in full."

Joel Harden, Ontario Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students agrees.

"The government doesn’t feel it’s fair for somebody to get two public subsidies, so they call OSAP–money they’ve loaned and are going to get back–a public subsidy," he said.

Harden added students aren’t getting enough financial support from the government already and this possible legislation will further exacerbate the plight of poor students.

Harden added students aren’t getting enough financial support from the government already and this possible legislation will further exacerbate the plight of poor students.

"Students are being forced to choose between getting an education or having an affordable home, which we think is an incredibly regressive and absolutely sinister move," he said. "It’s just another chapter in this government’s attempt to put education out of reach for most people in this province."

Mason said she can’t comment on the potential legislation, nor defend it, as it may never come to fruition. However, Mason did explain the current situation regarding low-income students.

"Our current policy is students are eligible for social housing. When calculating their income for the purposes of eligibility and what rent they would pay, student loans aren’t considered income," she said. "Students who are living entirely on OSAP are considered to have no income, so they are already paying what we call minimum rent."

While Mason was quick to absolve the government of any wrongdoing, Parks does not have much faith.

"This is a decision that’s already been made," he said. "I get the impression from the government that this is a done deal."

He warned students to consider the possibility of similar legislation being proposed in Alberta.

"Hopefully, there will be a little more reason and exercise by your government," he said. "Hopefully, students in Alberta won’t have to face the same problems that we’re starting to face here."

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