The state of student housing is at a crisis point. Increased rent, decreased availability, and quality of housing are all issues facing students attending post-secondary institutions that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Within my own university community, Queen’s University, over-enrollment combined with poor quality of housing and high rental rates have posed significant financial and accessibility barriers for students.
More broadly, it is estimated that Canada is short 300,000 housing units for students. This puts Canada 10-15 years behind other countries in post-secondary housing developments. These challenges were further amplified through the pandemic as many students were stuck paying rent and housing expenses for units not being used as they completed school entirely remotely.
Within the Queen’s community, challenges with increased rent, decreased quality of living, and overall accessibility to affordable living spaces close to campus have been on the decline over the last 15 years. Average rent within our community is, on average, $700 plus utilities for a single bedroom in a multi-unit home. This, combined with Kingston’s extremely low vacancy rate of 0.6 percent, and increased enrollment over the last two years, highlights a need for a dramatic increase in housing to ensure students have a safe space outside of their learning spaces. The desperate need for housing has resulted in overpriced developments within the student district, many charging upwards of $1,200 per bedroom. A report published in 2020 links the estimated increase of over 10,000 students within the student population over the next 25 years to a potential requirement for an extra 3,300 off-campus rental properties.
However, this is not an isolated incident. Students at the University of Waterloo have been experiencing vast challenges as the potential Winter return to campus looms. As most of their students have been learning remotely for the Fall semester, many did not sign full-term leases. With the return of in-person learning, students are scrambling to find affordable and accessible housing leading to students engaging in bidding wars to secure winter sublets. Access to education should not be dictated by who has enough money to secure a limited place to live.
Housing is a human right that should be afforded to everyone, including students. However, student housing is at a tipping point, and many students feel like we are being left behind. We are members of our communities just like our non-student neighbours, and we deserve to have access to safe, affordable, and quality housing. As we look ahead to a future with growing student populations and housing needs, it is essential that investments are made to support students and ensure we are able to continue to be part of our communities.
Written by Jacob Marinelli, Steering Committee Member and Commissioner of External Affairs at Alma Mater Society of Queen's University.