Looking for Affordable Student Housing? Good Luck

Every year, students in universities across Canada have to ask themselves the question, “Where am I going to live next year?” That question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer.

Across the country students face challenges in finding a place to live, mainly because of a lack of options and high numbers of people looking to rent. The rental situation has become so dire in some university towns, that students are overcrowding houses. CBC recently uncovered one McMaster student house which boasted 12 bedrooms and violated local zoning law.

How bad is it?

A study released by the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation found that students in Ottawa are struggling to find affordable housing, and struggling to pay for the housing they have:

. Nearly a fifth of students live in housing that struggles to meet their current needs.

. Family assistance is the primary means of paying rent with only 21.4% of respondents to the survey paying rent through income from employment.

. The survey concludes this can put students at risk of housing insecurity because many students are relying upon unsustainable resource sources.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding from the study is that nearly 85% of students in Ottawa spend more than 50% of their money on rent, with 8% paying 90% or more. That means students have small amounts money to spend on textbooks and necessary equipment, but also basic necessities, like food.

A similar study was done in 2014 of the affordable student housing market in Montreal, and came to the same conclusion; students need more cheap housing.

The survey concluded more work was needed, and there was a potential market for affordable housing projects in Ottawa. A similar study was done in 2014 of the affordable student housing market in Montreal, and came to the same conclusion; students need more cheap housing.

The same is true in Vancouver, Canada’s most expensive city to live in. However, municipal and city level governments are trying to take steps to ease the burden on students.

A Solution?

David Chernushenko, City of Ottawa Ward 17 Capital councillor said a potential solution can be found in a policy called inclusionary zoning.

“Inclusionary zoning says that the council can tell a developer to dedicate a portion of their housing to be set at what we deem at an affordable price,” said Chernushenko.

This law could be important to ensuring that affordable housing is available.

The Promoting Affordable Housing Act was given Royal Assent, meaning municipalities could use inclusionary zoning against private companies.

Inclusionary zoning “focuses on increasing the supply of affordable housing, supporting people and ending chronic homelessness… and  requires partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors, and between all levels of government,” according to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs website The Promoting Affordable Housing Act was given Royal Assent, meaning municipalities could use inclusionary zoning against private companies.

“Vancouver uses it but it’s not that common in Ontario, and is going to be debated in city council in Ottawa,” said Chernushenko.

“Until now the only thing cities have been able to do is build the units themselves or give money to agencies who could guarantee they provide affordable housing, but previously council has never been able to force private companies to create affordable housing units in their building. Inclusionary zoning would provide more affordable housing for students,” said Chernushenko.

Maybe Not…

Policies such as inclusionary zoning can help create more affordable units, but Dr. Penny Gurstein at the University of British Columbia says they won’t necessarily benefit students.

“Students are lumped in with everyone else who is looking for housing, there isn’t special considerations. What’s really needed are larger, 3 bedroom units for families so they don’t have to leave Vancouver. Smaller units are being built, and the three bedrooms would be better for students because then students could split the costs,” said Gurstein.

The problem is, with competition for affordable units so high, students could be cut out.

The policy is aimed to lower housing costs for everyone, not just students. The problem is, with competition for affordable units so high, students could be cut out.

Vancouver has the highest rental rates and lowest vacancy rates in Canada, and students are struggling to find places to live in the competitive markets.

“It’s a particular problem in the cities because the kind of houses students are getting, such as bachelor suites are now being taken up by people who are working or have families because that’s all they can find.”

In response to the difficulties for students, UBC is trying to expand their residency offerings.

“I think they’re trying to make it guaranteed for first year students, and those are more affordable options. But if you’re a graduate student you’ll have to look elsewhere, and that can be difficult,” says Gurstein.

But students don’t garner any special attention in the city’s plans for affordable housing.

“Students are not particularly being addressed in the City of Vancouver’s policies right now, so it’s up to the university to deal with it,” said Gurstein.

So is there a happy ending in sight for students? The answer, perhaps in the future, but not yet. For now the beast that is rising housing costs still rules over these lands, whilst we wait for a knight in shining armour to come liberate us, and hopefully pay my rent.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Bailey Moreton

Bailey Moreton

Bailey is a journalism student at Carleton University, and no his British accent isn't fake. He wants to travel for free, and is welcoming donations.