Photos by Catherine Goce

Finding off-campus housing can be a stressful experience for McMaster students for a variety of reasons, and it does not look like that will change anytime soon. With the increased number of students enrolled at the university, off-campus housing is becoming harder to find.

According to McMaster University official statistics, more than 27,000 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled at the university this year, a figure 20 per cent higher than the 22,558 undergrad students enrolled five years ago.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, the student housing supply has not been able to keep up with the rising demand.

The number of students seeking housing through Spotted Properties has tripled over the past year, easily surpassing the number of new properties the company has taken on.

“With McMaster taking on so many people, there are a lot of people saying they can’t find a house,” Parashis said.

Much of the increase in demand can be attributed to the increase in international students, who Spotted Properties work with regularly.

In 2014-2015, McMaster had 1,499 full-time international undergraduates. This year, that number has doubled.

According to Parashis, another contributing factor this year is the higher number of first year students that have come to Spotted Properties to find accommodation.

McMaster currently cannot accommodate all first-years in residence. Instead, only incoming first-years with an average of 83.5  per cent or higher are guaranteed residence placement.

To accommodate incoming students, the university is developing two new residences: the Peter George Living and Learning Centre, slated to open this fall, and an off-campus residence, scheduled for August 2021.

Yet, with the Peter George Living and Learning Centre adding only 500 beds, some first-year students will likely still have to find non-residence accommodations next year.

One of the byproducts of increased housing demand is higher prices.

We’re renting houses out for an average of $550 dollars right now,” Parashis said. “Our most expensive places are about $700 a room, which is very high. The problem is there’s such a lack of good quality homes, so it allows landlords to demand high prices if they offer premium product.”

Students are also forced to live further from McMaster.

“We have people going as far as Dundurn to rent,” said Parashis.

These issues are compounded by existing problems in the student housing industry, such as pervasive landlord discrimination.

"Many landlords have negative stereotypes of people and have made judgement based on race, gender and even university program, which isn't fair,” said Parashis.

These biases make it frustrating for students, who are often not given an equal chance at securing a house.

An especially frustrating situation can occur when landlords break an agreement with students before a contract is signed or a payment is made.

Parashis says students independently negotiating with landlords are susceptible to this problem, leading them to employ companies like Spotted Properties, which use a standardized transaction process.

Spotted Properties, which is run by former McMaster students, is working to address these issues by ensuring contracts and policies align with current best practice guidelines and providing 24/7 service to tenants.

In addition, the company is working closely with agencies abroad to reserve homes for international students at the university.  

The McMaster Students Union has also been working to improve students’ experiences with off-campus housing, pushing the city of Hamilton to go forward with a landlord licensing pilot project.

The MSU municipal affairs committee also launched a landlord rating website in January.

Despite these efforts, student housing issues are many, and the solutions remain unclear. Addressing them will likely require concerted efforts from all parties involved.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Tanvi Pathak

In March, McMaster Students Union is slated to release its second annual municipal budget submission to Hamilton city council.

According to Shemar Hackett, the MSU associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), the budget submission will prioritize transit, student housing, student employment, bylaws and enforcement and lighting.

After consulting students and reviewing data from The Your City survey, the MSU decided these key areas were ones that stood out as issues that needed immediate attention.

The committee’s decision to focus on these areas is also linked to the rising demand for off-campus housing.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, demand for student housing has soared in recent years.

Parashis notes that with the increase of local and international students attending McMaster, the waiting list for students seeking accommodations through Spotted Properties has tripled in the last year alone.

The municipal budget submission will also focus on accessible employment opportunities.

The union’s education department and municipal affairs committee’s recommendations aim to offer proactive solutions for each issue and improve Hamilton’s attractiveness to students and recent McMaster grads.

One of the committee’s recommendations is for the city of Hamilton to implement a lighting audit across Ward 1.

Hackett emphasized that there are neighborhoods off-campus substantially lacking in visibility. As a result, many students do not feel comfortable walking home late at night after classes.

A lighting audit would reduce these issues in these neighborhoods and identify priority locations for new street lights.

The committee reached out to the Ward 1 councilor Maureen Wilson, who was receptive to the committee’s recommendation and is confident that the proposal will be valuable to McMaster and Ward 1.

Another recommendation calls for city council to move forward with the landlord licensing project discussed in December.

Hackett and Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education), articulated their stance on landlord licensing to Ward 8 city councilor Terry Whitehead, who sits on the Rental Housing sub-committee.

Since then, the motion to implement a pilot project was brought to council and endorsed by many councilors.

Prior to the development of the budget submission, the committee consulted city officials.

The committee plans to continue to meet with the city staff and councillors to push for their recommendations and make them a priority for the council.

Thus far, they have met with Terry Cooke, CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, to discuss student engagement and retention and the ways in which organizations can support one another in the future.

The municipal affairs committee has also been successful in implementing its Landlord Rating system, a platform developed by the MSU education department.

The landlord licensing project, which the committee has also been lobbying for, got the Hamilton city council rental housing sub committee’s stamp of approval and will be put forth into discussion during the next city council meeting.

“The council has been extremely receptive to all our points about the agreements we put forth,” said Hackett, adding that the MSU budget submission has proven to be a valuable resource for lobbying municipal stakeholders.

Over the next few weeks, the municipal affairs committee will meet with city councilors and community stakeholders to advocate for their budget submission proposals.

 

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Photos by Kyle West, Graphics by Sukaina Imam

For many students, living in residence is an important part of the first year experience. In recent years, universities across the country have had to act quickly to meet the increased demand for residence space on campus.

McMaster has 12 residence buildings that house approximately 3,700 students. The demand for student housing, however, is far higher. Currently, there is only enough residence space for about 40 per cent of incoming first year students.

McMaster is one of the only universities in Ontario that does not provide guaranteed campus housing for first year students. In order to be guaranteed admission to residence, students must meet a minimum grade average. All other students are placed on a waitlist.

Finding Space on Campus

In 2016, McMaster had to fit 200 additional students into residence due to higher than anticipated enrollment numbers. As an immediate solution, double rooms were converted into three person units.

The Living Learning Centre currently being built on the north end of campus will help to meet the need for residence space. In addition to classrooms and student services, it will also offer 500 suite and traditional-style residence rooms.

But there is only so much space on campus. In order to meet the rapidly increasing demand for residence space, universities across Canada are rushing to create new housing options.

One novel yet controversial approach to the problem of minimal housing space comes from the University of British Columbia’s “nano suites” pilot project.

Enrolment numbers at UBC have been steadily increasing and have led to space and resource shortages. The university is now considering scaling back admission of international students, according to UBC’s student-run newspaper The Ubyssey.

Nano suites are 140 square foot housing units containing a bed, desk, bathroom and kitchen. A desk sits under the bed, which can retract into the wall to save space.

The nano suites will account for 71 rooms in a new 362 unit student residence building on UBC’s campus.

One of the main draws of the nano suites is the cost. Each unit costs around $700 a month which, compared to Vancouver’s notoriously high rent costs, is a strong draw for students.

However, living in such a small space is not a feasible option for everybody. The Ubyssey notes that the units are less than double the size of a minimum-sized single occupancy Canadian prison cell.

While scaling down the size of residence rooms is one approach to the problem, the more common approach is to build residences off campus.

Turning to Private Companies

Private developers have noticed this trend. In some cities such as Waterloo and Toronto, the demand for student residences is so high that private companies have built student residences independently of the universities.

Since privately operated residences are not affiliated with universities, students do not get access to the same benefits and support systems that are typically available in traditional residences. Additionally, privately owned residences are often far more expensive than traditional options.

Due to a lack of government funding for residence construction, many universities are unable to build their own new residence buildings. In recent years Canadian universities have begun exploring public-private partnerships to fund university-affiliated student residences.

York University, U of T and McGill are among the growing cohort of Canadian universities who have partnered with private companies to fund student residence buildings.

In 2017, McMaster announced its plan to follow suit. The university bought a group of nine Westdale houses around campus for $9.5 million with the plan to develop a multi-storey residence building in partnership with Knightstone capital management, a Toronto-based company that specializes in student residences.

While the construction will be handled privately, McMaster will run the residence as part of the university-wide student housing system.

The proposed first phase of the residence will have 950 beds, and there will an additional 455 if there is sufficient demand.

In addition to the Westdale residence, McMaster is also partnering with Knightstone to build a residence in downtown Hamilton for graduate students and their families.

Knightstone aims to build residences that challenge the perception of unclean, unsafe student living. Their website claims that they cater to the new generation of students with higher expectations about their student living conditions.

“These expectations, taken together with security, cost and cleanliness as their parents’ hot buttons, have created consumers that seek a student residence experience at a level that corresponds to their home life,.” read a part of their site.

Some of the new privately developed student residences across Canada more closely resemble luxury condominiums than traditional student dormitories.

CampusOne is a student residence in downtown Toronto that houses students from the University of Toronto, Ryerson and Ontario College of Art and Design. The building houses movie theatres and a fitness studio, and the website advertises Feng Shui compliant rooms.

While privately and jointly funded residences offer luxury, they also tend to be more expensive than university owned buildings. A standard room at CampusOne, for example, costs about $1700 a month, not including the meal plan.

McMaster has yet to announce the costs of the new residence buildings in Westdale and downtown Hamilton.

 

Community Impact

By building student residences the surrounding city, universities are better able to meet the increasing demand for housing. However, building residences off campus means that universities must account for the needs of the surrounding community members.

The proposed Westdale residence concerned residents, who worried that the height and density of the proposed building would alter the community. A letter from Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association Of Resident Homeowners Inc. to the city of Hamilton expressed concern about foot and vehicle traffic and, as well as the plan for yearly move in and move out.

“We understand the need of the University, and we endorse a development on the proposed site; however, we feel that this development in its present form will have long-lasting negative effects on the immediate community,” states the letter.

Community resistance to off-campus student residences is not unique to Hamilton.

In 2013, a proposed private residence for U of T students faced similar backlash from members of the surrounding community. The Harbord village residents’ association found issues with the proposed building’s height and density, among other concerns.

A new proposal was announced this past summer that accounted for the concerns raised by the HVRA. However, it took five years of negotiation to come to the agreement.

While building residences off campus may be necessary to accommodate for increasing enrollment, it requires careful consultation with community members.

 

As university admissions continue to rise across the country, so too will the demand for student housing. While many incoming students want the first year residence experience, the future of campus living is anything but traditional.

 

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