Advocacy Updates: Varsity Courts

Residence is an important part of our graduate student community, and the GSA recognizes that we have a thriving community in Varsity Courts. Being one of the two residence exclusively for graduate students, Varsity Courts caters to graduate students with a family. The townhouse-style residence offers more space to families, and the shared playground offers a space for children to interact.

Because the GSA values student feedback, we formed a Residence Consultation Committee to gain a deeper understanding of student experience in residence. The Residence Consultation Committee was formed in 2019, comprised of students living in Crowsnest Hall and Varsity Courts, and meets on an ad-hoc basis. The Residence Consultation Committee serves as a great intermediary body where students voice their concerns to the GSA and the GSA advocates to ancillary services on their behalf.

This year, the Residence Consultation Committee met to shed a light on what is happening at Varsity Courts. Over the years, there has been a myriad of health, safety, and access issues regarding the properties in Varsity Courts, including but not limited to:

  • The residence-wide free internet RezNet does not reach Varsity Courts. Despite promising free internet to all residents, many Varsity Courts families purchase their own internet package to receive stable internet connection.
  • Deteriorating housing results in frequent flooding of basements, which poses a large safety concern.
  • Improperly lit pathways making the icy paths difficult to see during the dark winter nights.
  • Overlooked annual maintenance for furnaces and eavestrough cleaning.
  • Large sinkholes in the roadways posing safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians
  • Concerns around shared spaces, such as the laundry room, not receiving adequate sanitizing equipment until months into the pandemic.
  • The lack of free visitor parking made the families difficult to have friends over (pre-pandemic) and facilitate community-building.

In addition, Residence Services made the decision to remove all units’ front patio wall, citing the structure of the walls poses a safety issue. Due to the fact that this is a safety issue, the GSA cannot directly advocate against this decision. Based on direct feedback from Varsity Courts residents, we learned that the patio wall is crucial in protecting residents’ property, and acts as a handrail for the slippery winter conditions for children. The GSA took these feedbacks directly to the Board of Governors, effectively the landlords for the residents.

In October, alongside the tuition increase proposal for 2021-2022, Residence Services proposed to increase the rent for Varsity Courts by 5%. Residence Services sited the increase was due to a cost-comparison with the rental market, but the GSA believed that increasing rent during a pandemic, when the units themselves faces many health and safety issues, is unacceptable. Through successful advocacy from the GSA, we were able to reduce the rent increase to 3%, alongside a guarantee to maintain the infrastructure of the units. In addition, Residence Services will now offer a $45/month internet credit for all Varsity Courts units beginning January 1st, 2021.

The GSA will continue to follow up with residence services on Varsity Courts, and in particular with advocating for parking changes. We value student feedback above all else, and we will continue to work closely with the Residence Consultation Committee to ensure the highest possible quality of life for our Varsity Courts residents. If you are a graduate student in Residence interested in joining the Residence Consultation Committee, please reach out to vpext.gsa@ucalgary.ca.

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