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Student housing policy called unfair
Aurora College policy says Yellowknife students can't apply, with few exceptions

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, July 11, 2013

Yellowknife students at Aurora College who want to access student accommodations are being left in the cold thanks to the college's housing policy that favors out-of-town students over local ones..

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Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro says she feels Aurora College's housing policy for students is discriminating against students who are Yellowknife residents. - Candace Thomson/NNSL photo

Yellowknifer recently met with a woman who tried to get accepted into student housing last year after enrolling in the nursing program at the college. As a single mother, she could not afford to pay the market rental rate for housing while going to school and not working.

The woman owns her own home and was hoping to sell it and rent a college-subsidized housing unit while going to school.

"The market rate and what it cost to keep my home weren't much different, but they were both too expensive," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

Students that manage to get into housing pay anywhere from $300 a month for a bachelor suite to $465 a month for a three-bedroom apartment -- a substantially lower amount compared to those paying the market-value rate. The average market rental rate for all-sized units is $1,000 per month, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's rental housing report in the spring of 2010.

There are 64 units ranging from one- to five-bedroom apartments in Yellowknife set aside for North Slave campus students from out of town to apply for. Yellowknife-based students, however, cannot apply for housing unless they're applying under “extenuating circumstances.”

The woman told an Aurora housing representative that she would sell her home and provide proof of sale if it meant she and her son could access the student apartments, and was told she could apply under extenuating circumstances.

"I looked at what qualifies for 'extenuating circumstances' in the policy and I thought, 'I don't fit in here'," she said.

Aurora College president Jane Arychuk said financial situations, such as not being able to afford market rent, never fall under extenuating circumstances.

"'I can't afford housing in Yellowknife' is not an extenuating circumstance because that's the same for every student in the world," said Arychuk.

Situations that do apply are out of a student's control, such as a death in the family or a house fire, which affects the student's living situation, she said.

In June there were 11 students in Yellowknife student housing claiming extenuating circumstances, three in Fort Smith and five in Inuvik.

Arychuk said the lack of housing in Yellowknife means the college has to have a priority system in place.

There are four different priority groups implemented by the college in 2010 which are determined by various factors that play a role in deciding which students get housing first. The variables include distinctions, such as whether the student is an NWT resident, if they are from out of town, if the program of study is offered in their home community, and the priority of the program of study.

Therefore, if a student is coming to Yellowknife from Hay River to study nursing at the Yellowknife campus, they would be in Group One, meaning they would be allotted housing first. When housing runs out, students are put on a waiting list that is prioritized in the same way as the housing allocation.

Students are able to call the college to find out where they are on the waiting list, but it changes quickly, depending on the circumstances for each student.

The Yellowknife woman, who ended up dropping out of her nursing program because she couldn't get student housing, said she was told she'd be put on a waiting list every year in the program and could not be guaranteed housing.

"People can't go on 'maybe's," she said. "It was a risk I decided against."

She said she felt the policy needed to be more equal.

"Local students need housing as much as out-of-town students," she said. "Going forward, everyone should be treated equally in the program."

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro received a complaint from a constituent about the housing policy at Aurora College two years ago. After reading the policy she was not impressed with the advantage given to out-of-town students. She raised the issue in her member's statement to the legislative assembly May 30.

"In my statement I said that the policy is discriminatory and I do think it is," she said.

Arychuk said she is aware of Bisaro's criticisms. She said the policy was reviewed in June by the Department of Justice.

"They say there is no human rights violation at all," said Arychuk. "There is no need to change the policy."

Bisaro said she was not surprised that the college isn't going to change anything.

"I said I felt it was discriminatory and perhaps that was too strong a word, but there is an unfairness here," she said. "There is still an injustice. I just want fairness, and I just don't think that policy's fair."

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