The student housing market is in crisis

The Queen's house party is over

Zoë believes in increasing affordable student housing options.
Credit: 
Photo by Curtis Heinzl
A healthy, stable home environment is critical to well-being. With students now expected to work and study from "the comfort of their own homes," online learning has elevated the importance of a positive home environment as part of academic study. 
 
Queen’s students who are moving out of residence, finding new roommates, or returning from internships are facing the reality of the current local housing market: it’s in crisis. 
 
However, the reality of the situation is that no crisis starts in a vacuum—the student rental market in Kingston has been deteriorating for more than a decade. 
 
The current housing vacancy rates in the student district are at all-time lows. Over-enrollment, crippling inflation, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are all factors putting pressure on students’ ability to locate and pay for good-quality housing. 
 
With landlords or property development companies increasing prices, owners are feeling the squeeze which has only further driven up prices. Now as winter break approaches, many students are still scrambling to find housing for next semester or the upcoming year. 
 
Queen’s currently indicates that students can expect to pay $475 to $950 for a single bedroom in a multi-unit home plus utilities. However, it’s much more common for rent to be on the higher end of that spectrum than the lower end. 
 
Lines for house showings are often ridiculously long. Upwards of 50 anxious students will wait in the pouring rain to tour a five-bedroom unit that’s a 15-minute walk from campus. The stress of this often-fruitless process leaves students feeling frustrated and hopeless.
 
Some may say "Toronto is so much more expensive" and while this is true, higher education students looking to Kingston as more affordable would never even have considered an education in major cities. But students can no longer even consider Kingston to be an affordable alternative.
 
Individuals take on debts and commitments based on what they feel they can manage. We each make assumptions about what to expect and structure our financial goals around what we can afford. With these drastic changes in the Kingston housing market, students are forced to respond to economic forces they could never have anticipated.
 
Unfortunately, this housing crisis will only continue to worsen. 
 
Queen’s recently opened a new residence building housing 334 more students, barely denting the market demand. Queen’s Residences also primarily offer accommodations to first-year undergraduate students and some exchange students, forcing upper years to seek other arrangements. 
 
The fall 2021 headcount for full-time students was 27,692—a number only expected to increase in the coming years. A 2020 Kingston Housing Supply report forecasted a 40 per cent increase in students between 2016 and 2041, indicating the need to build 3,300 new off-campus dwellings to support the student population. 
 
Although some housing cooperatives exist—such as the Kingston Housing Cooperative with 170 beds and Queen’s Community Housing—they only reach a fraction of those who require assistance. 
 
Many private developments have emerged to supplement the market, but this option is only open to those who can afford the extortionate rent of over $1,200 per room. 
 
If current property options are inadequate and negatively impacting students, why isn’t this essential issue a priority? Students all agree this is long overdue.
 
Just like other housing market bubbles, this one has a serious risk of collapse. With droves of new students always joining our community, it's a core issue for both the University and Kingston to invest in sustainable initiatives, demonstrate support, and enact positive change. 
 
We need housing options that accommodate students’ diverse financial needs. 
 
For those supporting themselves and already paying high tuition fees, the collapsing housing market could prevent prospective students from getting a gold-standard education. Access to quality education should not be reserved only for those who can afford housing.
 
Queen’s says they’re committed to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) through “progressive change.” If they truly intend to uphold these ideals, then affordable housing remains a foundational pillar to be addressed through practical and tangible commitments. 
 
Students are struggling and need reassurance from the university that it will actively address these pressing issues, which are growing ever more onerous.
 
Queen's has the opportunity to enhance its reputation and become one of the first Canadian universities to publicly support and value the living conditions of its student body, especially for upper-years or those living off campus. Doing so would be a demonstration of the University’s commitment to the principles of EDI and perseveration of its community. 
 
If students must live farther away, the renowned campus atmosphere is bound to degenerate. Just like other traditions we continue to safeguard, the student district must also be preserved.  
 
Campuses should advocate for inclusive options that do not discriminate against students’ financial backgrounds. It only takes one institution to recognize and react for the rest to take note, something that would benefit students facing sky-high rental prices across the country.
 
The question is, how do we mitigate the effects of the housing market bubble in Kingston, and who will support the student body? What is the University’svision for our housing, our community, and our future?
 
One thing is clear: the days of boasting about $600 rent are long gone.
 
 
Zoë is a fourth-year Nursing student.
 

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