The hunting

By Robert Wright

With less than a month left before the September housing crunch, the yearly race is on, and students are finding it difficult

Quoting a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate and estimating that more than 10,000 students will seek housing in the next few weeks, the University of Calgary Students’ Union is trying to call attention to the issue of affordable student housing and alleviate some of the crunch.

"The big problem in housing for students is affordable housing for students," said SU President Rob South. "When you’re looking at $4,000 per year in tuition and mandatory fees and the amount of time you’re not able to work due to studies, it is practically impossible for a student to find affordable housing."

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in Calgary is $574 per month—$604 per month in the city’s Northwest quarter. In contrast, according to current student loan policy, a maximum of $305 per month is allowed by the provincial government for the cost of rent.

"A student loan is meant to be an adjunct of a student’s dollar amount," said Learning Minister Lyle Oberg. "It is expected that the student worked for the four months over the summer (if they had those four months to work), and that the student loan is used in conjunction with those earnings."

"The cost of living amount through student loans was raised by $45 this year and we feel that this is a good way to do it," he continued.

"We’re trying to keep the student debt load down by putting a maximum on these numbers. We don’t want students graduating with too much debt."

The SU wants more government help for students, not only through an increase in loan amounts, but also in the form of grants.

"We are lobbying the provincial government to try to raise the cost of living amount available in student loans from $305 to about $400," said SU Vice-president External Nassr Awada. "We are also looking at a cost of living grant. If you could offer students a $200 grant and the rest would come from their own earnings or loans, it would make finding housing much easier on students."

"We’re also writing to the city to talk about subsidizing some form of housing for students," he added.

In addition to lobbying, the SU offers a regular off-campus housing service that lists housing available for students.

"It is our hope that the off-campus housing list will make it easier for students to find housing," said South. "Students are still going to have to be very persistent in their search for housing, but it will hopefully save them some time and stress."

According to South, the present difficulties in finding affordable housing are tied to the continued rise in the cost of education.

"As tuition and other fees rise it means students have less money to spend on rent, food and books," he said. "These are all basic necessities of a student’s education.

"Part of the problem is due to a decline in the number of grants available," South continued. "This decline has started to be combated by the Alberta Opportunities Bursary and the Millennium Scholarship Fund, but much more still needs to come."

According to the provincial government, much is already being done.

"We are putting an awful lot of money into student loans and grants right now," said Oberg. "Relatively, when you look around the world, our costs are in a good place right now. In Ontario, medical students are paying between $10,000 and $12,000 per year."

"Tuition in this province is a joint effort between the community and students," he added. "Taxpayers are paying 70 per cent plus of the cost of a student’s education. At the University of Alberta and the U of C, students are only paying about 23 to 24 per cent."

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