Student protesters gather for march and sit-in against housing fee increases

IAmAStudent protesters came together on Thursday, January 29 to march against UBC's proposed 20 per cent increase to housing fees.

Students met at 12:30 p.m. at the Flagpole Plaza on the North end of Main Mall. While participants made posters, representatives from the AMS, Residence Hall Association (RHA) and IAmAStudent spoke to the crowd.

The RHA Executive VP, Christina Tromp, believes that the university has been inconsiderate of student housing needs and financial concerns.

When addressing the protesters, she said, “The RHA has come to the very informed conclusion that this increase is not necessary and will not be beneficial to residents.”

She mentioned that in UBC's Vancouver Housing Action Plan, which focuses on the long-term development of faculty, staff and student housing, and touches on goals for maintaining the affordability of housing, the university claims that a UBC dorm room is equivalent to a one-bedroom or studio apartment off campus. According to Tromp, UBC came to this conclusion by factoring in the experience and community atmosphere that residents can't get outside of rez.

With this, Tromp posed a question: "what kinds of communities will exist if we limit the diversity of who can live here?"

According to AMS VP Academic, Anne Kessler, this proposed increase means that "even within their own logic, [the Board of Governors] are not meeting the requirements they themselves have set," in the Housing Action Plan.

At its Annual General Meeting (AGM) last October, the society vowed to formally oppose UBC's proposed fee increases. Though the international tuition fee increase of 10 per cent has already passed, the AMS is still committed to supporting student groups in opposition to the housing fee increases.

“I want to make sure that there is no point in the future that an administrator can say “well I didn’t know that affordability was an issue for students,” said Kessler.

Once the dozens-strong group of students began to move, they made themselves seen and heard all along Main Mall with the help of banners and chants.

Most of the students in the march were fully devoted to the cause, and the few who seemed timid were soon wrapped up in the activist mentality.

Fifth-year English literature major Samuel Kruzeno said “for me this 20 per cent increase is really really shocking, especially considering that under the B.C. Tenancy Act, something like this would never be allowed.”

Under the Tenancy Act, landlords in B.C. cannot raise rent by any more than the inflation rate plus two per cent. As a private institution, UBC is not governed by this legislation.

At the AMS AGM, the society vowed to advocate for the protection of UBC residents under the Act.

After last term's international tuition increase passed, IAmAStudent's main goal this time around was to do more to sway the university's decisions; the protesters wanted their message to be clear.

“I don’t think everyone needs to have a fundamental understanding of economics to express when they feel like they are being taken advantage of and even if they don't understand the economics, consultation in of itself is valuable,” said Natalya Kautz, a fourth-year double major in political science and economics.

As promised on their event Facebook page, IAmAStudent delivered a surprise to UBC president Arvind Gupta by ending their march with a sit-in in front of his office on the top floor of Koerner Library, where many then participated in his Twitter Town Hall.

During this sit-in, one of the protesters in the group asked for the microphone, wanting to have his dissenting views heard.

“I know you are all very passionate about your ideas but I regret to inform you that you will probably fail," said Matthew Chernoff when he took the microphone. "The university does not care about what you have to say.”

After his brief speech, Chernoff told the The Ubyssey “there are a lot of voices for the IAmAStudent movement and I noticed there weren’t a lot against the movement; I felt someone had to do it. I believe that it’s all just a bunch of self-interested people."

Chernoff sympathized with IAmAStudent, but was unafraid to hold back his criticism. "I understand that some people can’t afford student housing, but there just isn't as much housing to go around at these prices and I think that the IAmAStudent movement severely underestimates the economic forces behind these increases,” he said.

Chernoff walked away from the protest and the sit-in continued, but with numbers depleting as time passed.

After the Twitter Town Hall, Gupta walked out of his office with VP Students, Louise Cowin. They addressed the protesters and spent some time answering questions. Once Gupta and Cowin left, the rest of the protesters did, too.