The Humber Students’ Federation is dreaming big.
The organization’s Board of Directors is looking into buying property and converting it into housing for students at Humber North and Lakeshore campuses.
HSF Executive Director Ercole Perrone said in an interview the aim is to “provide a high standard, yet affordable degree of student housing.”
The idea stemmed from strategic brainstorming sessions between Perrone and the HSF executives.
“(We were) attempting to answer, ‘Where should the organization be five years from now?’ and we started to have a discussion about the best way for us to find opportunities to support students,” said Perrone.
After conducting several small focus groups with Humber College and University of Guelph-Humber students, the idea was brought to the Board of Directors due to its financial scope and impact on students.
Directors generally supported the proposal, but asked for additional research and details before making a commitment.
Lakeshore Director James Pashutinski likes the plan.
“My particular reasoning for supporting it is because I think it’s a very practical project and something highly conspicuous as well,” Pashutinski said. “If it’s completed, it’ll give students a good way to see their student government’s efforts.
“Some of the other projects we work on are more behind-the-scenes. This is very tangible and can really stand out as something that we’ve achieved,” he said.
The Board was presented with several options, including building a complex from the ground up, but ultimately chose to buy an existing property and renovate it. Timeliness and cost were cited as key reasons for the decision.
At its Jan. 14 meeting, the Board directed Perrone to move forward with contacting real estate agents to begin the process of finding a property to purchase.
“We’re looking at the multiplex model,” Perrone said. “Based on the research that we’ve done, that’s in the
…neighbourhood of about $2- to 3-million depending on the location.
“It would just be a matter of finding the right property at the right price and the Board would make that call,” he said.
It’s believed the Federation has several million dollars it wants to invest.
“Over the past five years or so, HSF had been putting away some money for a couple of big projects that ultimately did not go forward for various reason,” Perrone said. “There’s existing money that we can now allocate.”
But time may prove to be an issue.
Perrone said the Board hopes to have at least one complex operational within the next 12 months.
However, real estate veteran Ron Chichora says legal and zoning issues may slow the process down.
Toronto’s housing market already faces a problem of low vacancy rates. Chichora, a broker with Toronto-based Slavens and Associates, said if HSF were to find an existing housing complex, the tenants currently living there are protected under the province’s Residential Tenancies Act.
“You can’t just evict the current tenants,” said Chichora.
According to the act, a landlord can only evict tenants if they’re reclaiming the unit for personal use or use by an immediate family member.
In other words, HSF would have to wait for the current tenants to move out.
“It could take years for students to actually move in,” said Chichora.
Chichora said it would be better to build something new. But even that has its problems.
“There are zoning laws to consider. For example, if you bought an acre of industrial land, you would have to convert it to residential and that process could take a year or so to complete,” said Chichora.
Despite the hurdles, there is a clear desire from students to see this through.
For the Board’s part, this project is fueled by a passion to ameliorate the quality of student housing.
“We figured that (an HSF-managed building) would be better in the respect that students would always be taken care of,” said Erik DiVito of University of Guelph-Humber’s Board of Directors.
“If anything happened, we’d always have someone on maintenance to immediately fix it. And that doesn’t always happen in a lot of housing – a lot of students get taken advantage of and we don’t want that to happen,” said DiVito.
Second-year Fashion Arts student Bethany Hosick likes the idea of the student association providing housing.
“When I moved here, it was really hard to connect with the campus because I was off-campus and wasn’t from around here,” said Hosick, who is also the Off-Campus Connection Assistant for the college. “I just felt like I was missing out with not being in residence and I feel like a lot of students can relate with that.”
For now, the Board is content to take it slow.
“It will happen when it’s right. It’s a big initiative and we’re going to do it right on the first try, which means we allow ourselves to take a little bit longer to do it right,” Perrone said.
“It’s students’ money that we’re spending – if it’s not worth it for us to spend that money, then it’s not worth it for students. We’d rather put that money somewhere more useful,” said DiVito.
The Board meets Feb. 25 to discuss a detailed financial breakdown of the proposal.