Student Housing defends residence fee increases

Residence fees are increasing, largely due to a five-million dollar mortgage that the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) took out twenty years ago. The new budget, released at the Erindale College Council on January 29, indicated that the average undergraduate residence costs would increase by 5.5 per cent as of next fall.

Last week, a communications break down between the Residence Council and Student Housing and Residence Life became a public issue (Photo source/Medium file)
Last week, a communications break down between the Residence Council and Student Housing and Residence Life became a public issue (Photo source/Medium file).

A sinking fund mortgage was taken out for the building of McGrath Valley, said Dale Mullings, director of Student Housing and Residence Life (SHRL) at UTM. Mullings explained that because the five million dollars was withdrawn as a sinking fund mortgage, only the interest was paid over twenty years but never the actual principle.

Somehow, that was never noticed before, and this being the first budget Im taking on, weve noticed that there is a five-million dollar [debt] due this upcoming year that were going to have to start paying off, said Mullings. He suggested that if not for this unexpected expense, the current operating plan would have covered a majority of the costs incurred after building Oscar Peterson Hall.

The fact that we had to take on an additional five million dollars [which came due this year] had a major impact. If our department didnt do so well in saving and trying to recruit more [residents students] this past year, we would have had to raise rates significantly more, stressed Mullings.

He noted that SHRL were also able to save money in their department through eliminating and merging jobs, not hiring new staff, reducing spending for cleaning costs, collecting on non-refundable deposits from applicants who didnt end up living on residence, as well as collecting more efficiently on damages caused by students and on utilities.

Despite the five-million dollar hurdle, plans to enhance student life have been made. Student Housing and Residence Life plans to expand wireless technologies (through a $2.50 fee per student per semester), implement a townhouse lounge revitalization project (purchasing more comfortable furniture and flat screen televisions), and look into a Roy Ivor Hall study space and lounge project, along with other such initiatives.

Kristian Jurlewicz, elected president of Residence Council said he associates the increase of residence fees to mismanagement within the Student Housing and Residence Life administration, which students will ultimately have to pay for. Our residences are in such high demand that the administrators know that they can raise fees. With the new housing bylaw [in the city of Mississauga], it is going to be harder for students to find residences, said Jurlewicz. Instead of seeking funding from the University, for example, they [SHRL] just raise fees. Approaching UTM to pay off this debt would have been fairer to students, he suggested, since it is not clear who even took out this loan — which the Residence Council is now responsible for — in the first place.

Jurlewicz also claims that SHRL has hampered the renewal of the council by refusing to assist the Residence Council in making muchneeded reforms. He specifically calls out Adam Fraser, who is Mullings contact person with the council, as a barrier to communication between the two organizations. I do not enjoy or appreciate myself or my council being used as a scapegoat when all [SHRL] has done this year is silence student voices and empty their pockets, declared Jurlewicz.

Communication problems between SHRL and the Residence Council have been apparent since the beginning of the year. These difficulties have, to some extent, affected the efficiency of the Residence Council in responding to the 2009-2010 budget. Misha Waheed and Vivian So, first year representatives on the Residence Council, said that they were not informed of important meetings regarding residence fees and were unable to represent the students who nominated them.

We found out that the Residence Council didnt show up [in January] to approve the budget for the residence fee increases this year. We didnt even know that we were supposed to pass this budget, said Waheed. So added, None of the representatives from Residence Council showed up to vote for [or against] the increase.

Mullings recently sent an E-mail to all residence students to get their input about improving communication between undergraduate students and the SHRL. He noted that while students in the family and graduate communities have taken a keen interest in collaborating with us to make their experience the best possible… participation from undergraduate representatives through the Residence Council has not been as enthusiastic. He added that this has caused the communications breakdown between the Council and undergraduate residents, and that this should not give students the impression that the Residence Council does not care about undergraduate concerns.

The Residence Council has obviously made an active choice not to participate in discussions with any of the department for some reason. When they were requested for budget and general meetings, they didnt want to meet [and] they didnt show up for Erindale College Council, so they are not even showing up to the seats where they have influence, commented Mullings. He described how he had to go to Coleman Commons and sit down with students just to obtain their input regarding the budget.

When asked about attending such meetings, Jurlewicz attributed Residence Councils absences to miscommunications by both parties. Being a full-time student, it can take a few days to reply [to E-mails]. By then, things can get pushed back or thrown aside, he added.

Jurlewicz added that he is currently looking into restructuring the Residence Council. [Residence Council] is not able to meet the demands of students or be able to effectively advocate for them. Too much has to go through the administration — they have too much input as to what [Residence Council] can do and how we run ourselves.

According to Jurlewicz, a major issue the Residence Council faces is that they have no insurance coverage for hosting events. If an accident were to occur during an event hosted by the Residence Council, then individual students on the council could be held liable. We either have to go under the umbrella of the university, which makes us lose autonomy, or we have to incorporate ourselves. Ive held off on incorporation until all possible structures of the council are explored.

According to Jurlewicz, instead of helping the council with insurance issues, Student Housing and Residence Life would simply put a stop to events the council wanted to plan. As a result, tensions between the two organizations have been ongoing since the beginning of the school year.

I wrote to [Residence Council] on November 20 regarding issues with their insurance coverage, said Mullings, who went on to stress that he is mostly concerned about the student leaders and wants to make sure that they are protecting themselves.

Some members of the council, like So and Waheed, were not aware that they could be held liable for student injury at their events, a number of which they have already been involved in hosting. We only found out about it a couple days ago and its a bit scary. If I had known about this, I dont know if I would have signed up for Residence Council, said Waheed. Both him and So agreed that the Jurlewicz should have informed them of their liability upon joining the council.

Currently, SHRL and the Residence Council have been meeting to try to resolve communication problems between the two organizations. Were looking toward resolving issues with [SHRL] and trying to find a common ground, said Jurlewicz, adding that Residence Council is open to discussions.

I want to see [Residence Council] successful, said Mullings. He also emphasised that he hopes they can find a positive resolution to improve the relationship between the two organizations. In the meantime, however, it is students in residence who are paying the price for their inability to get along.

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