Students returning to the UW campus this fall are struggling to find affordable living accommodations as Ontario’s worst housing shortage reaches Waterloo.
With the GTA’s cities being ranked as some of the most expensive cities to live in in all of North America, it’s no surprise the prices eventually reached Waterloo.
“It seems like the prices skyrocketed overnight; I’m paying significantly more this semester than I was before,” said Sana Syed, a third-year UW student.
According to a study done by Rentals.ca, the Kitchener/Waterloo area ranks sixteenth in a list of cities with the highest rental costs in Canada. There was an 11.2 per cent and 18 per cent increase in rent prices since last September for one-bedroom and four-bedroom apartments, respectively.
Since the start of the fall term, the effects of the crisis on UW students have become more evident. WUSA staff have been approached by five students who are reportedly sleeping on couches within the SLC.
International students, in particular, are especially affected by this crisis. With their undergraduate tuition being over 400 per cent higher than domestic tuition, increasing housing costs only add to their financial burden.
“It’s mentally taxing,” said Nikhil Ratesar, a third-year international student from Dubai. “We came here to study, and having to constantly worry about my rent going up can be distracting from my studies.”
WUSA is working towards helping the student body with this issue by providing students with crucial housing information through a campaign led by Jeff Zhu, a director on the WUSA Board.
“Most students aren’t aware of some of the financial clauses within their leases,” Zhu said. “According to the Landlord and Tenant Board of Ontario, you’re entitled to interest payments on rent deposits every 12 months. At an average rent of $700 per month with a $100 deposit and 24,000 off-campus beds, you’re looking at over $400,000 in interest payments that’s up in the air.”
Information like this is what Zhu is summarizing in a housing contract playbook that is to be published to help students with legal and financial loopholes.
The housing issue itself cannot be solved overnight, stemming from a variety of factors — from supply and demand issues to a post-COVID housing market. During the remote learning phase, the majority of Waterloo’s student population stayed home with their families, forcing property managers to lend the vacancies to families, single adults and other non-student residents.
“Student wages simply cannot compete with households of full-time salaries or double earners,” said Shaminder Gogna, a real estate development consultant with years of experience in the GTA’s university cities. He advocates that student housing should be made accessible for students and students only.
Gogna explains the rate at which people are arriving and housing being built simply do not align. At the moment, the region of Waterloo is in need of over 70,000 homes in order to meet the expected population growth.
“It’s a systematic issue,” Gogna added. “Home to two great universities and consistently being voted one of the smartest cities in Ontario, Waterloo is a major attraction for many immigrants, Ontarians, and students to come settle in.”
The situation is the result of many different factors. Gogna suggests that the student body highlight the urgency of the situation to university officials, as the inflow of students into UW needs to be managed.
Zhu encourages students to bring any comments, complaints and inquiries to himself or the WUSA board, where they can work directly on the issue and raise it to the necessary officials.
He also recommends taking these issues up to the municipal level.