Reporting on a student housing crisis, as a student in a housing crisis

Reporter-editor Megan Kinch reflects on her feature story, Student housing in a rental crisis

Before I got the job as a reporter-editor at The Dialog, I was thinking about writing a rental housing crisis story. I even pitched it in the interview. 

Sometimes it’s hard for me to think about anything but the rental housing crisis. A year ago I was living in a totally shitty basement apartment crammed in with way too many people with an asshole landlord. As a working-class person, the struggle just gets harder without effective rent control and no serious money going into housing. 

Despite the fact that I always pay my rent on time, I haven’t lived in one place for more two years in a row since I moved out from my parents’ house in 1999. I even decided to change my profession and go into construction because I just can’t make enough money as a writer or an academic to make it work anymore in this city. 

So how did I approach a story about a crisis in student housing, a story I’ve experienced intimately? In this case, I chose to interview Anna Oliveros, my neighbour and friend who lived down the hall from me — it’s like a way of telling my story without making it about me. 

Another student voice in the story, Saj Emmanuel, an African immigrant hustling to find a decent room, reminded me of my partner. He’s also an African immigrant who is always dealing with housing insecurity and trying to find a room somewhere with decent people and hopefully a window. 

I feel like being embedded in this kind of life allows me to find the right people and to know a bit of what they are going through. Of course when you are interviewing your friends and other community members you have to be careful not to abuse their trust. You’ve convinced them to talk, but not everything about their life that you’re aware of is fair to publish, and you have to be careful. 

If this means your story is a bit weaker, so be it; it’s important to have journalistic ethics and to not be an asshole.

Sometimes you might also be friends with someone who just happens to the be the perfect person to interview. For this piece, I  interviewed Geordie Dent, who taught me how to do journalism back in my days with the Toronto Media Co-op. Geordie is now the executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations and has been interviewed many times on this issue. 

What surprised me the most about this story is when I interview real estate agent, Luke Fraser. He was so clear and concise about the crisis. I thought that a real estate agent might be more conservative, but being on the front lines of the housing situation he really understood how bad things are. 

Megan Kinch is a finalist for a John H MacDonald award for excellence in student journalism for King of the Casa

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Reporting on a student housing crisis, as a student in a housing crisis