Louis Riel residents form working group to protest potential closure

The working group has been meeting on Fridays at the SFU Women’s Centre.
The working group has been meeting on Fridays at the SFU Women’s Centre.
The working group has been meeting on Fridays at the SFU Women’s Centre. – Brandon Hillier

Concerned residents of the Louis Riel residence at SFU Burnaby have formed a working group to advocate against the building’s potential closure.

Formed on Friday, Feb. 13, the group has launched a petition to ensure that “all the current and future low-income families and graduate students in Louis Riel House are provided with appropriate housing on the SFU Burnaby campus.”

Students have repeatedly raised concerns over the presence of mould at SFU’s Burnaby campus over the past few years. More recently, those concerns have centered around the condition of Louis Riel House.

The university is currently in the process of performing a full building assessment on a room-by-room basis regarding moulds and indoor air quality, and will be releasing the results of that survey in the upcoming weeks.

Teresa Dettling, a student and single mother who has lived in Louis Riel for the past two years, told The Peak that she is concerned that the university might close the residence. When asked whether she is nervous about the presence of mould in some units, she replied, “Even if we wanted to go somewhere else, we don’t have the money. It’s just not there.”

Louis Riel residents, which include graduate students, families, and mature students, currently pay $843 per month for a one bedroom suite or $991 per month for a two bedroom suite. This is comparable with the traditional-style apartments in McTaggart-Cowan Hall ($2,576 per term or $644 per month for four months) or the Townhouses ($2,972 per term or $743 per month for four months).

For Dettling’s neighbour, Mai Abdelmoaty, whose husband is finishing his PhD in electrical engineering at SFU, staying in Louis Riel also means keeping her family together. “This community let me keep my family in one spot, instead of me staying home and my husband coming here for his studies,” stated Abdelmoaty.

Louis Riel residents sign a four-year limited contract when they first arrive at SFU, which is meant to ensure that affordable housing is always available for new students. “I planned to stay for the maximum time I could stay,” Abdelmoaty said. “But now, if they really close it, I have to adjust my plans.”

Dettling is worried that instead of accommodating mature students and their families in other residences on campus, the university might advise them to look for housing in UniverCity or off of the mountain.

“SFU doesn’t want family housing because it’s not profitable,” Dettling asserted. “This is going to cost money. It costs money when you make a mistake. They gambled that we would leave quietly, they gambled that no one would know what they were doing. And they lost. Because this is gentrification. This is what slum lords do.”

Tim Rahilly, SFU associate vice president, students, responded to these comments in an email to The Peak. He explained that the university has “worked to develop a comprehensive review of the residence, and have been communicating with residents to keep them informed since last summer.

“The well-being and safety of our students is a top priority,” continued Rahilly. “With [Louis Riel House] coming to the end of its life cycle, we are now working towards a decision to ensure students and families are living in healthy and safe locations. We will continue to assist students and families as we develop next steps.”

For the working group, the next steps involve continued petitioning of the university for alternative, affordable housing, should the building be closed. The residents also discussed the possibility of pursuing legal action against the university at their most recent meeting on Feb. 21.

Ultimately, Dettling said that she is ready for a fight: “I won’t stop, and I won’t give up, and I won’t back down because I have so much to lose if this community is not continued.”