Lower vacancy rates, longer commutes ahead for students

Facing higher rents, students advised to house hunt earlier and further from campus

Mayor Bryan Paterson hopes to have a task force by March. 
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Queen’s students may move further away from campus the next time they go hunting for a rental property. 

Kingston’s low vacancy rate—just 0.6 per cent according to the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation—can make affordable rental properties scarce in the University District, partly leading to some action on the municipal level.

During his municipal election campaign in October, Mayor Bryan Paterson announced the creation of a task force to address the issue, which is current being staffed.   

“The goal is to have the task force launched near the end of February,” Paterson said in an interview with The Journal. “The overall goal is to accelerate the construction of new housing. We know we need it: it’s very clear with the movement in rental vacancy rates.”

The task force will produce recommendations by the end of the year and explore strategies to attract investment in housing construction. 

AMS Commissioner of Municipal Affairs, Søren Christianson, noted the possible difficulties of searching for a new rental property as a student. “Students definitely are in a very competitive environment,” he said. “They often have to jump on a house and lease it right away without thinking or being able to compare different properties.”

Due to postal codes of individual students not existing in any local database, it’s difficult to indicate where students are seeking residence and living, he added.

“That’s something [we’ve] been trying to pursue and [I’ve] spoken with Jim Neill and Peter Stroud. This is an issue of importance, but at this time I [haven’t] had success in finding an accurate way to collect [the] data.”

Students are encouraged to begin searching for vacancies early, using social groups and the AMS housing resource centre.

Finance professor Evan Dudley said the answer isn’t close to campus. As rental spaces near campus become less available, housing likely must be found further away.

“There’s not many places that we can build up in proximity to Queen’s,” Dudley told The Journal, adding the rising rental costs are a symptom of positive development in Kingston’s economy.

“Kingston’s been doing quite well over the past few years. Economic growth is about three per cent last year. The unemployment fell down to five per cent. That’s down from 6.8 per cent in 2015. The consequences of that creates a housing shortage. The vacancy rate is a symptom of a good thing,” Dudley said.

Despite economic progression, the vacancy rate still poses a problem for renting students. Sydenham District Councillor Peter Stroud pointed to steadily increasing University enrollment, combined with developers failing to act on building permits.

“The high rents and low availability is all completely caused by the fact that there’s only five to six developers [in the city],” Stroud told The Journal in an interview. “There are over a thousand approved units right now in the near campus area, already through all the appeal processes, already with permits to build, and the developers are sitting on them.”

Stroud said he understands the frustration students face in searching for housing near the University District. He recommends they pressure their AMS representatives and the University to help their increasing demand.

“[The University’s] created the problem by increasing the enrollments constantly without doing anything to help supply.”

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