The Sustainability Action Fund was shocked to hear of the eviction notice that Concordia’s students in residence received on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020. While evictions are stated for Sunday, March 22nd, we strongly recommend that Concordia University should cancel the evictions immediately to avoid putting students at risk of undue harm during the opening weeks of the COVID-19 global pandemic. If Concordia does not publicly and openly halt the evictions immediately, many students will panic to find other housing options in Montreal’s housing market, which is already in crisis due to a declining vacancy rate at less than 1% in several nearby neighbourhoods. Even in the best of situations, they will have little choice but to take whatever housing is available to them, be it in poor condition, unaffordable rent, or on illegal and predatory terms. We cannot stress enough how frightened we are for the safety and health of these students.
Concordia has back-peddled, explaining that students will be able to apply for leniency on these terms and that they will be assisted in finding accommodations. Students and the public alike deserve greater transparency on how the University will accommodate students who cannot move. Housing Coordinators around Canada have stressed again and again that housing procurement is a lengthy and resource-intensive process. Even if only 80 of the students needed help finding housing, it would require enormous amounts of staff support to ensure that the small percentage transitioned into safe and affordable housing. Doing this work over a weekend is impossible. It’s clear that what little support Concordia can offer in this time frame will only delay homelessness for these students. Eviction prevention is the only option.
While the university claims that this decision was made in concern for the health and safety of students and the greater community, we at the Sustainability Action Fund find this argument unfathomable. The students have taken care to create a home at Concordia’s residence. This means developing a sense of independence and security, while also developing important social ties with their fellow residents. Evictions are known to have detrimental health impacts, causing relapses of physical and mental illness, and disproportionately putting women and people of colour at risk of harm, be it domestic abuse in a new home or the tremendous hardships of homelessness. Breaking up the ties that students have invested months and years to build will push people into isolation at a time when mutual-aid is so necessary for physical and mental security. This also pushes hundreds of students into public places, where they will be looking for new forms of housing when the public is consistently being told to stay home. Eviction is not a strategy that cares for the health and safety of the public.
The Quebec government has announced that it will suspend any evictions in this moment of crisis. While we acknowledge that student residences adhere outside this ruling, we demand that Concordia respects the housing of its students in this trying time. Cancel the evictions immediately, and develop a plan to phase students into safe and affordable housing under a reasonable timeline.
If any of the evicted students find themselves lacking housing following these evictions, the Concordia community, including us at SAF, will work to find ways to support them in this time of uncertainty.
The Sustainability Action Fund Staff and Board of Directors, Sustainable Concordia, The Refugee Centre, The Centre for Gender Advocacy, QPIRG Concorodia