Our university, the great MIT of the North, is home to some of the worst staircases I have ever seen in my life, and I really wish that was the worst thing I could say about it. Alas, UW is also home to an administration whose hand is in the cookie jar as they enroll more students than the region can reasonably house. Do you struggle to pay rent, find an apartment or get into a residence program? Too bad because UW wants more money and less responsibility.
Let me take you back to the year 2008, when the university reported having enrolled 28,845 students in the fall semester. Just 13 years later, UW reported having enrolled 42,520 students for its 2021 fall semester—a 147 per cent increase from the last recession. However, according to the Region of Waterloo and the federal government, housing has not kept up with this increase in demand as the total number of dwellings in the Waterloo Region increased by just 6.4 per cent between 2006 and 2016, while vacancy rates for homes in the region are at an all time low of 2.1 per cent. In other words, you are screwed.
Worse still, even UW’s own residences (based on its own published metrics) have fallen behind the demand created by their admission’s office as in 2021 they only had 5,724 spaces available in residence with 8,555 first year students admitted. Why does that matter? Because UW offers a 100 per cent guarantee of residence placement for first years and transfer students while simultaneously failing to actually own the facilities that would be required to satisfy that promise. I ask then, how can it possibly be ethical for the university to continue increasing student enrollment, promise them non-existent residence placements, and then leave them to flounder in a city drowning in housing insecurity?
Now, UW is not alone in following this road — according to the federal government, many universities in Canada are engaging in a crash course on ethics by allowing their admissions to outpace housing availability. However, not all universities are ignoring the effects of limited housing on their students. For example, the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands has begun several projects and programs to help alleviate housing insecurity in their student population. According to Architects Magazine and the NL Times, these measures include the building of quick-architecture housing, modular apartment additions, high-density housing, and buildings which can pay for their own construction through energy production. Moreover, TU Delft is transparent about its housing initiatives and works hard with students to come up with new solutions which have included partnering with housing agencies in the area to help students secure leases off-campus, remaining honest and transparent about the amount of residence units available and the chances of securing one as an incoming student (Oooo! Look at that integrity!), and developing programs and residences which can address the need for short term housing in the area. Additionally, TU Delft dedicates significant staffing, website space and time to helping as many students as possible find housing. Why do they care this much? Because of that sweet, sweet tuition money. According to the Irish Mirror, at its most basic, the housing crisis is resulting in more people dropping out, delaying admission, or choosing not to apply to universities around the world. The reason TU Delft has addressed it before other universities is because the housing crisis just happened to bite them in the ass first.
So, what am I asking for? First of all, I would like UW to start giving a damn, but beyond that, I want them to take action. The university needs to start building more residences, advocate for zoning law changes to allow for more student-friendly housing to be built, develop relationships with local housing companies to help students secure leases, work with the city to put in more late night and comprehensive bus routes so students can live geographically farther away from campus without jacking up the commute times, set up a program to match stream-four and stream-eight co-op students together so they can easily collectively rent on a one-year lease, and start working with brains much smarter than my own to come up with better and more robust solutions. At the end of the day, if UW doesn’t get involved, students are going to start dropping out or refusing their admissions offers because they cannot find housing. Make a choice, babe: care about housing or start losing students.
A rent-burdened student