Graduate students seek affordable housing after Queen’s housing complexes fill up

PSAC 901 and SGPS advocate for affordable housing solutions

The An Clachan and John Orr Tower are facing a demand issue.
Journal File Photo

Graduate students say the lack of affordable housing spaces at the An Clachan and John Orr Tower are pushing them towards further housing precarity. 

Located on West Campus, the two housing complexes are a part of Queen’s University Community Housing, a network of affordable housing options provided by the University.

An Clachan complex and John Orr Tower house a large number of graduate students and their families, with 260 and 123 housing units, respectively.

On May 17, annual lease applications for the September start date went live for applicants. According to the University, an immediate rush in application submissions meant the waitlist for 60 open units was full within 30 minutes.

Graduate students told The Journal it was not clear when the application on the housing website would open. A date was provided in March, but not a specific time.

“[Queen’s Community Housing] did not announce the time when the applications would open, it was speculation for us,” Rohan Khan, MSc ’23, said in an interview with The Journal

“I got up early morning, and I checked [the application website] at 7 a.m, 8 a.m, and 9 a.m. It wasn't live.”

Khan said they estimated the applications would open at around 4 p.m. based on the approximate timing from last year. However, the application form did not go live until around 10 a.m., according to them and other graduate students.

Khan and their spouse, Mustabeen Noor, PhD ’26, said it took them 15 minutes to fill out the application form. They submitted both their applications around 10:25 a.m., at the latest. 

“[Queen’s Community Housing] informed us there were more than 150 people in the waitlist in front of us,” Khan said. 

Wilde Ferris, MA ’22 and an incoming PhD candidate, shared a similar experience to Khan and Noor. Ferris was placed on the waitlist without being given a specific number. They said the status of a potential housing spot was uncertain until May 31. 

In an interview with The Journal, Ferris spoke to the unique challenges graduate students face when trying to find housing. 

“As grad students, we don't get paid very well. We're on quite a tight income. I do work a second job outside of just my TA work. If you want to live anywhere close to the university, it's so expensive, even when you have shared accommodation.”

“You add in that a lot of grad students tend to be coming from further away. My friends are international students or come from Saskatchewan, Alberta, or BC, and don't know Kingston as a city,” Ferris said. “Most [apartment complex landlords] are also raising their prices illegally, past the 10 per cent they're allowed to.”

For Noor and Khan, both international students, the search for housing also means encountering racism and attempted exploitation. 

“Even though some people are really nice to you, implicit biases come out—things such as ‘these people, those people’ language and very subtle microaggressions,” Noor said in an interview with The Journal

“I contacted a landlord a few days ago. Even though a white friend got a response from this person, I never got one. I think this person could gauge from my name that I'm probably a person of colour.” 

Khan explained how the pandemic put international graduate students in a precarious position; if their research and teaching activities were online, returning to their home countries was often not an option due to border restrictions and other factors.

All three graduate students emphasized the need for more affordable rent through the construction of more compact housing units in Kingston and more effective rent control. Students said the University needs to play an active role in these changes.

“The University and the City need to collaborate in a way to build and create more affordable housing for students,” Ferris said.

“I feel like students cause a huge amount of issues in the housing situation in Kingston. They need to stop looking at the school simply from a capitalistic view and look at it from a student experience view.”

In a statement to The Journal, the University explained availability at the An Clachan and John Orr Tower fluctuates based on market demand and the amount of students who stay throughout the course of their studies. The University also said resources exist to support graduate students.

“The University makes every unit available that we can—this year there were 60 units available and demand for space was very high,” the University said. 

“We recognize a number of students are disappointed and are still looking for housing options. The University’s Off-Campus Living Advisor provides assistance and advice to students who are looking at housing options in the city.” 

PSAC 901, the union representing graduate student workers, said the lack of housing options is untenable and increases the amount of students living below the poverty line.

“Queen’s has a responsibility to ensure that graduate students are not destitute,” Astrid Hobill, PSAC 901 president, said in a statement to The Journal

“The University needs to build more graduate student housing, which would also help alleviate some of the pressure on the rest of the Kingston market.”

Hobill said the income of most graduate students come from stipends provided by Queen’s—they have not increased despite the rising cost of living.  

“[The University should] increase graduate student stipends to recognize the important role these workers have within the university, and to reflect the true cost of living in the city,” she said. 

The SGPS executive met with the University in February to discuss how to tackle housing issues. In a statement to The Journal, they said Queen’s Community Housing has worked to mitigate these issues.

“We also know that Housing has done their best to implement changes that students have asked for,” the SGPS executive said in a statement to The Journal

“First, by streamlining the process and identifying clear opening application dates, there was additional transparency in the application process which students had previously asked for. This meant that students were not left guessing when applications would open.”

The SGPS executive said they hope resources like the Off-Campus Living Advisors can support graduate students, even if they are not a permanent solution.

“We agree with others in noting that the only way to truly resolve the housing shortage for graduate students is to build more graduate housing. Over the next months of our terms, we hope to have ongoing discussions with the University about graduate student housing,” they said. 

The SGPS executive said they will continue advocating for graduate and professional students and will keep students updated on changes. 

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