The impact of the housing crisis can be felt reverberating around Guelph.
And in a city recently deemed to be one of Canada’s most expensive cities to rent one and two-bedroom apartments in, it’s become more pronounced for secondary students.
Students typically begin looking for housing in the spring, maybe even the summer before the school year begins, if they really want to push it. But now, many are looking for housing nearly a year ahead, and are already worried they’ll be left in the cold.
Sheri, who wished to keep her last name private for fear of making their search harder, has a daughter in her first year of studying animal biology at the University of Guelph.
After hearing rumblings of a housing crisis and expecting an impossibly competitive market, Sheri’s daughter and her three friends began looking for housing in October, just a few months after moving into residence.
In that time, she’s been to 20 viewings. And still, they haven’t found a house.
“There are too many students for residence,” she said. While her daughter was able to secure a dorm room in her first year, she said there was an “enormous amount of students” who weren’t able to.
The university admitted a record number of students for the 2022/2023 school year, with 5,899 students accepting offers to the school, and 5,150 first-year students applying to live in campus housing.
First-year students get a priority guarantee based on availability. Typically, they have space for around 4,700 students on campus residences, but were able to make accommodations for around 5,000. That means, however, there were at least 150 additional students in need of off-campus housing.
“There’s just not enough space on campus or off campus for these kids,” Sheri said.
Her daughter applied to live in residence again, but won’t know until June whether or not she’s been admitted – and that’s cutting it too close for Sheri, as commuting isn’t an option since they live in Barrie.
Such a competitive market is only fuelling the ever-growing cost of rent.
In December, Guelph was ranked as the seventh-most expensive city in Canada to rent a one and two bedroom apartment by rentals.ca, with rent averaging around $2,049 and $2,319 per month, respectively.
“Keeping in mind these are often basement apartments with smaller windows. They’re all safe; they’re all to code, but they’re… dingy little basement apartments,” Sheri said.
Even just one room in a small six bedroom house can go for around $1,000 plus utilities.
Third-year psychology student Georgina Georgiou considers herself fortunate to have found affordable housing, but has noted a huge spike in rent prices since she first moved to Guelph in late 2020.
“When I first moved here, I had no problem with housing. Rent was around $350 to $700 per month, with $700 being something more luxurious,” she said.
But in 2022, she and her housemates had to move because the landlord was selling the house.
“We had a huge problem finding housing at first,” she said. “The price suddenly went from $500 for living in a house of five, to $800. It was absolutely insane. We didn’t know what to do because none of us can afford rent like that.”
However, after nearly five months of searching, she was able to find something affordable – just in the nick of time, right before their lease ended in May.
Now, she says there are four housemates who pay $600 per room, with all utilities included besides WiFi.
That was in the spring, though, and prices have continued to climb since then.
Laurie Snure, general manager of Places4Students.com, an online resource for student housing, said it’s a post-pandemic problem that hasn’t gone away.
She believes part of the problem is many private landlords who had houses or basement apartments for rent got out of the market due to pandemic-related fears. Others, however, wanted to cash in on the real estate market that was going crazy at the time.
"That took away from what was available out there, and it's affected multi-family housing as well, not just student housing," she said.
That means there is less housing, but more students than ever.
On Snure's website, students are able to create profiles for those looking for roommates. She said in the last two years, the number of profiles across the network "has gone up 700 per cent."
From all the factors involved, Snure said there's been a noticeable shift in that students are looking for housing much earlier than ever.
"Our extremely busy season used to be the spring, summer," she said, adding everyone is aware of the state of the housing market, and it's got students worried about securing a spot.
So much so, she said students are overbidding just to ensure they have a home, and not having to live out of their vehicles or hotels temporarily.
But Snure said when there's not much left, students have no other choice but to settle.
“If you see something affordable that you like, that seems safe, grab it,” she said.
But what if there is nothing to settle for?
For Sheri, her concern isn’t even whether the house is going to be clean and safe, but whether there will be a roof over her daughter’s head next year.
“That's a really scary block for these kids. That's a lot of pressure,” she said. “I honestly call it the Hunger Games of housing.”
At one of their most recent viewing appointments, they were met with more than 100 other students waiting in line outside. After waiting for 45 minutes outside, one member of their group was allowed to see the house, followed by rounds of elimination.
They didn’t get the house, and the whole process took “a couple hours at least.”
“I’m disappointed in the university and the situation they’ve created for these students,” she said. “The university has failed the students.”
She added she is “disheartened that the local landlords are taking advantage of these kids. They should be focused on their studies right now, they shouldn’t be worried about where they’re going to live next year,” and believes the city and university need to work together to create more safe and affordable student housing.
U of G media relations director Lori Bona Hunt did assure the university is “committed to working with the City of Guelph, residents, landlords and neighbourhood associations to improve housing availability for our students in the community of Guelph.”
She added they are in the midst of developing a housing study “to help address the housing needs of students.”
Meanwhile, they “aim to continue to welcome as many students as possible to our campus residences while keeping the cost as affordable as possible.”
In Snure’s mind, prospective landlords can be part of the solution as well, gaining extra income by renting a room, but keeping rent costs low in exchange for things like senior companionship, walking the dog, or some other requirement “that students are happy to help with.”
Bona Hunt said students can also reach out to the Off-Campus Living staff for assistance with finding a house, signing a lease, and understanding tenant rights.