When Rishta Bhusal started looking for off-campus housing before starting university, she had no idea it would end with her future housemate’s dad buying a house she would stay at for first year.
With many students living alone for the first time in the first year of university, the off-campus lifestyle can add many challenges. In an interview with The Journal, three HealthSci ’25 students touched up on a range of topics relevant to first years living off campus.
Bhusal received no help or support from her parents in her search for off-campus housing for her first year. Instead, she relied more on her friend’s parents.
“A friend of mine, her parents were quite helpful. She lived in the same hometown as me. Her parents drove me to [Kingston] to look at some of the houses. That was helpful because getting to see Kingston before coming to Queen’s played a role in feeling more comfortable,” Bhusal said.
Although Bhusal didn’t live in residence in first year, she felt like she got many of the same experiences as students who did.
“Because a lot of my friends lived in residence, I got to stay at their place[s] once in a while. I got to experience the Vic Hall fire alarms.”
Bhusal didn’t find much of an off-campus community in first year, she believes this lack of community impacted how social she was. If she lived in residence, she thinks there would have been more exposure to opportunities for socialization and clubs.
As for the actual living experience, Bhusal found several noticeable issues with her situation in first year. She thought her place was relatively far from campus despite being quite expensive. She mentioned a discrepancy in the size of her bedroom compared to her housemates, which she felt reduced the value of her space.
“One of my housemates, her room was significantly smaller, and she got charged the same as me,” Bhusal said.
Heather Beaudin started her search for off-campus housing by connecting with a friend from high school. Together, they worked to find other housemates through online forums.
Though Beaudin received parental support, it wasn’t much help when it came to housing.
“[My parents] were trying to support me the best that they could. Obviously, they didn’t know very much about housing, how to get housing, and anything involved in that,” Beaudin told The Journal in an interview.
Without parental support, Beaudin believes she would’ve had less financial stability which would’ve made figuring out housing much harder.
Beaudin’s parents wanted her to live in residence, but she was concerned about the cost and the quality of residence.
Unlike Bhusal, Beaudin believed her social life living off-campus was comparable to the social lives of students in residence. She attributes this to her housemates being fellow first-year students.
In hindsight, Beaudin would’ve chosen living off-campus in first year again. Based on her experience, she believes that her expectations of living off-campus aligned with reality.
Jawahir Al Bayati had some harsh terms for her experience finding off-campus housing for her first year.
“In hindsight, it was pretty bad. At the time, I didn’t think it was that bad, but I did start looking for housing probably in like May,” Al Bayati said in an interview with The Journal. “As we all know now, that’s slim pickings. There wasn’t much housing left.”
Al Bayati didn’t feel a sense of community in her first year.
“I wasn’t really involved with the community living off campus in first year, especially since the house I lived in was about a 30 to 40-minute walk from campus. It was far removed from anything. I was in suburbia,” Al Bayati said.
Much like Bhusal and Beaudin, Al Bayati opted against living in residence due to the cost.
“The cost to live in residence in first year is obscene,” she said. “I did the math when I was in high school to try and figure out what would be the most financially feasible way to go to school and residence was completely out of the question.”
Al Bayati knew how to cook from a young age, another contributing factor behind her decision to live off campus in her first year.
“I like the freedom of being able to cook my meals. I know not everyone likes that but personally I love cooking. I enjoyed the act of grocery shopping as well,” Al Bayati said.
Al Bayati had mostly positive words to say about her actual living conditions in first year, despite expressing frustrations about the location.
“The only issue we had with our housing was that it was so far from campus and the walkability in that area was terrible. There were no grocery stores, there was no Shopper’s [Drugmart], there was no Dollarama. We lived off campus which made busing difficult as well.”
Al Bayati recalled paying $700 per month, excluding utilities and Wi-Fi. She believes this cost wasn’t worth it considering the location.
When it came to giving advice to first years living off-campus, Al Bayati stressed the need to understand their rights as renters.
“I think that’s something a lot of landlords, even past first year, take advantage of. The fact that students don’t really know what their renters’ rights are,” she said.
Al Bayati also advises first years living off-campus to spend a lot of time on campus.
“Not a lot of first years live off-campus. If you’re going to stay in the off-campus zone, you’re not going to be seeing students who are having the same experiences as you at the same time. If you go back on campus, you’ll be seeing a lot more first years and making more friends.”
A statement provided by Melissa Burke, the orientation and transitions coordinator at the Student Experience Office (SEO), and Stefanie Loggia, the off-campus community student lead, discussed resources Queen’s offers to support first-year students living off-campus.
Burke and Loggia mentioned the Queen’s First Year Off-Campus Community (OCC) as the primary resource. The First-Year OCC belongs to the SEO’s First-Year Foundation program and supports first-year students seeking to live off campus through webinars, online socials, and online outreach.
Led by upper-year students, the First Year OCC assigns student leaders to first-year students. These leaders connect with first-years one-on-one, host a Fall orientation event, and offer programming like movie nights throughout the year.
These leaders host an OCC Lounge in the Queen’s Centre, with hours throughout the year where first-year students living off-campus can hang out between classes, heat up a meal, or meet with friend.
Burke and Loggia pointed to the Office of the Off-Campus Living Advisor (OCLA) as another key resource. This office offers webinars as well as one-on-one advising for students living off-campus. The advising service covers topics like moving in and out as well as renters’ rights.
The Student Community Relations team is also involved in supporting first-year students living off campus.
Though Burke and Loggia mentioned the Student Community Relations team engages with hundreds of students each year, when Bhusal, Beaudin, and Al Bayati were asked whether they had heard about any of these, the answer was a resounding no.
Kenneth Wong, a professor of marketing at the Smith School of Business, had a lot to say about what he considered to be a severe housing shortage in Kingston.
“The housing market even in the absence of students is already very tight. There’s a very small inventory of land available for development and so housing is certainly at a premium right now. I think our vacancy rate is some bizarre single digit number which is quite low,” Wong said in an interview with The Journal.
Wong says the result of the housing situation in Kingston is a tremendous pressure on the prices that students pay for off-campus rentals.
Wong, a Queen’s graduate, lived off-campus in his first year with students from a broad range of backgrounds and ages. He found it helped him mature.
“In my case, I had it quite easy because I lived with a fellow commerce freshman. We were going through the same thing together. In fact, we were childhood friends so that made it especially simple, and we lived with upperclassmen, a couple of engineers, a commerce student, and an ArtSci so we had ample sources of information. It was kind of like the best of both worlds.”
Wong commented on a challenge that students off-campus face but students in residence usually don’t—groceries.
“In residence, you’re not buying groceries because you’re eating on campus. The work is being done for you. By contrast, if you’re living off campus, you got to get groceries, you got to cook, you got to clean. That creates quite a bit of time pressure.”
Wong’s advice for first-year students living off-campus was to form networks with peers.
“If the other person is in your faculty or in some of your classes, you may work together, you may form study groups together. It becomes very difficult to proceed as a lone wolf,” Wong said.
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