Some Nova Scotia students facing 'desperate' situation amid housing crisis
NSCC, King's College have reached out to alumni for help
Victoria Gibbs is used to getting emails from first-year students excited about arriving at the University of King's College in Halifax, and what orientation will look like.
But these days, Gibbs' inbox as student union president is full of "pretty desperate" questions about where they can live.
"I've never seen a situation like this in the four years that I've been at King's," Gibbs said Friday.
She said the current dire situation appears to be due to rising rents, mixed with the ongoing housing shortage across Nova Scotia.
When she started at King's, Gibbs said she crunched the numbers and determined it was cheaper to live off-campus, but that's "by far" no longer the case. She said no other students she knows pays less than $700 a month, and that usually takes multiple roommates splitting costs.
"It's supposed to be a student city, but more and more it's becoming so inaccessible, and I really wonder who the city's really meant for anymore," Gibbs said.
Given that most schools are back in person this year following months of online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gibbs said students might have to defer their education until they find somewhere to live.
King's sent out an urgent request to alumni last week, looking for people to rent extra bedrooms or other spaces to students.
The email from Katie Merwin, dean of students, said the university's on-campus housing is full and they still have 15 first-year students on the wait list, even after converting many single rooms to doubles.
There are another 10 returning upper-year students who also cannot find housing. They've added their names to the residence wait list, Merwin said.
Another way universities could help would be to freeze or lower tuition costs, which have gone up in Nova Scotia during the pandemic, said Kris Reppas, the Nova Scotia chair for the Canadian Federation of Students.
Reppas said provincial legislation on rent control and a higher minimum wage would go a long way to helping students.
"Some folks are having to then partake in unsafe living conditions where there's more folks living in a space than there should be," Reppas said.
The Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) has also asked their alumni to rent extra rooms or pass along tips on apartments, especially for the Yarmouth, Kentville and Truro areas.
Chauncey Kennedy, manager of housing and student life with NSCC, said he's seen student housing issues grow over the past few years into what is now a crisis.
"It's not just an HRM issue. It is a province issue," Kennedy said Friday. "It's just being more expensive to live in Nova Scotia."
Both King's and NSCC, as well as other schools, use websites like Places4students.com for students to connect with people renting rooms. Kennedy also said they are always looking for host families to support international students through the Canada Homestay Network.
NSCC also has a wait list for their three on-campus housing facilities, and Kennedy said they are considering adding more students into these buildings temporarily.
Kennedy said three new student housing projects funded by the province, planned for NSCC's Akerley, Ivany and Pictou campuses, are another way to address housing issues, but won't be ready until 2024 and 2025 at the earliest.
Spokespeople for Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University (SMU) said Friday that they have not sent emails to alumni looking for help housing students this fall.
Cale Loney, SMU spokesperson, said while they do have a wait list for on-campus rooms that's "standard" for this time of year, and overall application numbers are down slightly compared to pre-pandemic years.
Dalhousie spokesperson Janet Bryson said they don't currently have a "very large wait list" for their roughly 2,300 residence beds.
With files from Tom Murphy