STUDENT HOUSING IN OTTAWA: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

For university students, there comes a time every year when they stop and think: where am I going to live next year? Some will decide to remain on campus, and some will stay with parents. But for many at Carleton, this time of year means looking for housing in the Ottawa area.

Finding affordable housing

Many students try to look for the cheapest option possible. Laura Storey, the director of Housing and Residence Life at Carleton, said this may be getting harder.

“I’ve noticed that prices increase by inflation or slightly more each year in Ottawa,” Storey said.

This is a problem some students have faced, including Steven Marchand, a first-year journalism student.

“The survey found on average, students pay $612.28 per month on housing, but nearly one-fifth of respondents said their current housing is below their needs.” – Fahd Alhattab

“I had some help from my parents. We got a real estate agent,” he said. “At first I wanted a condo-style house that was close to the city, but it was all too expensive. I had to go further away from the city to get what I was looking for.”

The Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) recently released the results of a survey looking at where Carleton students are living and student housing trends in Ottawa. The survey found over half of students are getting help from their families to pay rent.

CUSA president Fahd Alhattab said the results of the survey show there is demand for more affordable housing in Ottawa, and the association would be working with partners in the city to address the problem and build more student housing.

The survey found on average, students pay $612.28 per month on housing, but nearly one-fifth of respondents said their current housing is below their needs.

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Nearly one-fifth of respondents to a CUSA survey say their housing does not meet their needs.

But the high prices haven’t changed the number of people looking to stay on residence, Storey said.

“Our applications for residence have been consistent over the last several years. Our offerings are still desirable to students,” Storey said.

Some students consider working as a residence fellow, as it’s a more affordable option for living on-campus. But Douglas Cochrane, a first-year global and international studies student, said the application can be a nerve-wracking process.

“The problem is the hiring process, although not considerably long, felt long and people I had hoped to live with were already looking at houses, so if I did not get the position, and they had already found a three bedroom house, I would have been out of luck,” Cochrane said.

Problems for off-campus students

Living off-campus might cost less, but landlords can often be a problem. David Chernushenko, city councillor for the Capital Ward—which includes Carleton—said they can be a problem for students.

“I rarely do get calls from students themselves, and in a way that is unfortunate, because I think a lot of students don’t know their tenant rights or are afraid to speak up because you know they’re afraid of possible repercussions from the landlord,” he said.

“But now we have these private investment companies building housing, they’ve seen a massive opportunity in the market for students looking for housing.” – David Chernushenko.

“The students are thinking ‘It’s hard to find a place for a decent price, if my landlord isn’t delivering on some of the things they promised, or are slow to respond to issues, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.’ I think there is  a sort of general tendency to not rock the boat,” he added.

Fear of ‘rocking the boat’ can be attributed to a general sense that housing is expensive and there are few options. Gary Martin, a consultant for Carleton and an expert in suburban residential development in Ottawa, said prices have always been high.

“Ottawa is no different than cities across Canada— there is a shortage of houses for rent everywhere,” Martin said. “Renting in Ottawa is awful, it’s very expensive, personally I live outside of Ottawa because I can’t afford it.”

But Chernushenko said there’s an emerging trend in the housing market for students.

“Universities continue to build residences if they can. To use the term ‘the student ghetto’, there isn’t so much of that anymore in Old Ottawa South as there might have once been,” Chernushenko said. “But now we have these private investment companies building housing, they’ve seen a massive opportunity in the market for students looking for housing.”

A new development has been approved at 774 Bronson Ave., about a kilometre away from Carleton. The building will have 12 storeys, split into 192 units with 356 beds, according to an Ottawa Citizen article.

The units are all geared towards one, two, and three inhabitants— a trend Chernushenko said he has also noticed.

“I sense that if students could find affordable housing with a bachelor apartment or only one or two other roommates, I feel like people would prefer that compared to managing a big house full of people,” he said.

The CUSA survey found 90 per cent of students are living with roommates.

But with developments being built and geared towards small groups of students, Storey said there is potential for prices to rise higher than inflation.

According to Alhattab, CUSA’s student housing project would be a long term project.

“If we can nudge enough groups to start looking at this as an issue and start looking at how we can make something happen, it’s just a start of a two, three, four year project,” Alhattab. “We start with the research and see what happens, and see who bites and see who’s interested in making something happen.”

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