Montreal Innovates in Student Housing

The affordable community uses a pioneering funding model to deliver 144 beds to undergraduates at Concordia University, with backing from the federal and city governments.
The Woodnote Co-operative. Image courtesy of UTILE

The first project developed through a novel funding model to make student housing more affordable in Canada has broken ground in Montreal. The 90-unit community, called the Woodnote Co-operative, will open its doors to 144 undergraduate students of Concordia University in the summer of 2020.

Located at 3499 Papineau Ave. in Québec’s largest city, the innovative project is backed by a mix of student union, city and federal funding. Woodnote Co-operative is developed by Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement abordable (UTILE), a non-profit dedicated to building affordable co-op student housing in Québec, in collaboration with the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

Day-to-day operations of the property will be handled by another non-profit, SHAPEM, which manages hundreds of affordable housing units.

Teaming up for affordable student housing

The C$18 million ($13.5 million) project was first announced in 2017, with C$1.85 million ($1.4 million) in funding from CSU and another C$500,000 (more than $374,000) from the city, according to the Montreal Gazette. Last October, the government of Montreal announced it would more than triple its contribution to C$1.6 million ($1.2 million) in order to speed up delivery.

The Canadian federal government is also chipping in to the project, investing C$3 million ($2.2 million) to UTILE to support the development of up to three buildings totaling more than 160 affordable rental units for post-secondary students in Montreal. The investment is being made through the National Housing Strategy’s C$200 million (nearly $150 million) Affordable Housing Innovation Fund.

The fund, an initiative under the national housing agency the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), aims to build up to 4,000 new affordable housing units for Canadians in need.

Breaking new ground

Under the partnership between UTILE and the CSU, a democratically allocated fee is levied on students to be invested in the construction of affordable rental housing. UTILE also teamed up with a social enterprise trust fund to create a C$10 million ($7.5 million) investment vehicle, Fonds d’investissement en logement étudiant (FILE), targeting the asset class.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time in Canada that a student union directly invests in housing, with government and social finance providing the remaining 90 percent of the project budget,” commented Laurent Levesque, executive coordinator for UTILE, in a prepared statement.

Concordia University follows in the footsteps of another Canadian institution that has experimented with new ways to put roofs over students’ heads. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver has built scores of 140-square-foot “nano suites” to house its young scholars.