AMS shifting housing advocacy strategy past Rent with Rights campaign

The AMS is shifting its housing advocacy strategy after seeing some successes in lobbying the provincial government on student housing issues with the Rent with Rights campaign.

The development for the campaign at UBC began in 2014 and 2015 after the university proposed to increase rents for student housing by 20 per cent. That same year, the AMS and Residence Hall Association wrote a letter to the university and the Board of Governors opposing the increases, arguing that it broke UBC’s promise to keep housing at or below market value.

According to AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi, the campaign was successful in lobbying the provincial government to invest more money and resources into student housing. Now the AMS is shifting its strategy to focus more on off-campus housing for students.

In 2017, the AMS collaborated with the Alliance of BC Students, the Simon Fraser Student Society and the University of Victoria Student Society to launch the Rent With Rights (RWR) campaign. The campaign developed a set of nine recommendations in line with the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), which excludes properties owned by educational institutions in BC.

Ilnitchi explained that the campaign was meant to advocate for student rental rights to the provincial government, as student housing was exempt from the RTA. She added that the campaign touched on “everything from rental increases and affordability to evictions and how much notice students get to compensation if things go wrong in the building.”

“The original idea was to start up this campaign to also let the provincial government know that the RTA can’t adequately support students because educational institutions are excluded. That means that students are ... vulnerable to oftentimes policies and practices done by the institution,” said Ilnitchi.

Collaboration with other student unions was vital to the RWR campaign because hardships such as housing availability and security are often shared among university students throughout the province. Vancouver, specifically, is recognized as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in.

By collecting data, running petitions and presenting their recommendations, the campaign built the foundation for a working group within the BC government that brings together student housing representatives to discuss the investments in housing.

“We shifted what our advocacy looked like,” said Ilnitchi. “The government … had already invested … $400 million into student housing.

“I think one of the important things to recognize is that UBC has some of the best student housing in Canada, so being able to bring leadership into housing … how can we all share knowledge across the province to improve student housing for everybody?”

Based on the results of the annual AMS Academic Experience Survey, housing remains a top issue for many UBC students because it often comes with many uncertainties and risks. Ilnitchi says the AMS is looking into new strategies to inform its advocacy such as introducing a housing survey that will help the AMS understand the trade-offs students face when looking for housing.

“It’s actually a really exciting time for student housing advocacy and its development,” said Ilnitchi. “We’re considering working on creating a housing survey …. [to] get a better idea of how we can best support our students, moving forward with our advocacy.”