Student union at Conestoga College aims to focus on housing as more students struggle in a tight market
Focus group surveyed students over the span of 2020-21 year to find main issues and offer recommendations
The union representing Conestoga College students says it plans to work on addressing student housing issues, after a report highlighted ongoing challenges students face in finding accommodations in the area.
Conestoga Students Inc.'s (CSI) advocacy department created a focus group that asked students over the 2020-21 year about their experiences finding housing in the area, and released their findings in March of this year.
"Over the last few years we've started to notice a steady increase in the number of students raising concern about housing safety, affordability and more as an issue to seek additional supports," Sana Banu, president of CSI, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.
"That's how we broadly started to evaluate the issues identified, and wanted to see what best practices that other post secondary institutions are doing currently in the housing sphere."
Lack of resources, housing and affordability
The almost 90-page report highlighted three main issues voiced by students and offers a long list of recommendations and best practices.
It described concerns around an absence of reliable housing information and resources for students, as well as unsafe housing conditions.
The report found some international students felt they were misled by college recruiters about the cost of living in the area, and indicated concerns around the availability and affordability of housing.
"We also heard students cite several external restraints such as lack of credit guarantors for international students especially, who do not have an existing credit history," Banu said.
Banu notes the issues cited in the report also affect domestic students coming from other cities or out of province. She said the report has not yet been approved by CSI's board of directors, but expects it will be once the fall semester starts.
"Predominantly, that will be on our radar first, then we will get into the feasibility of what is possible for us as an organization to take on," she said.
Tight rental market
As post-secondary students return to in-person classes this fall semester, the challenge of finding available and affordable units has been felt in other parts of the province by international students.
Conestoga College has the second-largest population of international students among colleges in Ontario, according to a report from the province's auditor general in 2021.
Nida Zohra is starting her second year at Conestoga College this fall. She came to Waterloo from the Middle East in May 2021 and said at that time, finding a unit was easier because classes were still virtual.
"It was mid-lockdown and I got lucky looking for a place the first time I came here, I found a place really quickly. In January I had everything finalized," Zohra told CBC.
Finding a place for this fall semester however, was tough. She said many international students rely on Facebook Marketplace to find accommodations, and the competition has been fierce.
"When I was scouring through Facebook, it came to a point where if I did not [reply] to a post in the first 10 minutes, it was gone," she said.
Ashish Bhatia, who works as a content creator for CSI, also has experience seeking a unit in a tight rental market and has heard from many students about their own challenges.
"When I was looking for housing and accommodation, once I started visiting places, like for open houses at five or six houses, landlords were starting a bidding system," he said.
"Students already living here are having such a hard time getting accommodations, but what do you expect for a student who is not even in the country?"
To help international students navigate their new life in Canada, Bhatia posts short information videos on platforms like Instagram and Youtube.
Future growth in Lower Doon
The City of Kitchener is currently working on how it will accommodate future growth in the Lower Doon area, which has become a hot spot for student housing.
Some of the recommendations for the project include building a greater mix of housing types within Lower Doon, and to develop purpose-built student housing.
Another is to update the city's lodging house by-law, which has not been updated since 2005, according to Helen Fylactou, manager of licensing for the City of Kitchener. She said there are rental units in the area that act like lodging houses, but are not up to code or licensed.
"If we open up the bylaw to allow this kind of property, then I think we can see an increase the number of licensed properties, which would mean units being more regularly inspected for health and safety," she said.
Fylactou said there is one more round of community consultation in the fall before staff present a design and recommendations to council in 2023.
A spokesperson for the college said the school is working with the City of Kitchener and CSI to find long term solutions, but did not provide details on what those solutions could be.
- An earlier version of this story referred to Sana Banu as the director of Conestoga Students Incorporated. She in fact the president of the organization.Aug 30, 2022 9:18 AM ET