PEI

Post-secondary students struggle to find housing on P.E.I.

Some students gearing up to attend post-secondary school on P.E.I. say they are struggling to find an affordable place to rent as the start of the fall semester inches closer.

'I've searched over hundreds of apartments and I couldn't find a place to stay'

UPEI says its residence has been full for months. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Some students gearing up to attend post-secondary school on P.E.I. say they are struggling to find an affordable place to rent as the start of the fall semester inches closer. 

"For the past five months, ever since I got my visa, I've been looking for somewhere and it's been really hard," said Omar El-ashry who is moving from Egypt to Charlottetown in August to study computer science at UPEI. 

"I've searched over hundreds of apartments and I couldn't find a place to stay."

El-ashry said his initial goal was to live in what he now calls an "imaginary apartment." It would be a fully furnished two-bedroom condo near the university. 

Now he said he is just keeping his fingers crossed that he finds a place with two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. 

"That's it," said El-ashry. 

'Pretty substantial wait-list'

El-ashry said he did inquire about living in residence at UPEI once he received his visa back in March, but he said every room was already spoken for and a waiting list was growing. 

"It is definitely full and has been for a few months now and we've got a pretty substantial wait-list," said Laura O'Laney, the assistant manager of residence life at the university. 

"It would be in the hundreds." 

'This is a really challenging time for those folks trying to find somewhere to live,' says Laura O'Laney, the assistant manager of residence life at UPEI. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

To make the situation even more complicated, the university is down about 60 beds this year due to COVID-19. 

"We weren't able, this year, to offer our other residents our double rooms so everyone will have their own bedroom," she said. 

"So we have 444 beds. In a normal year we'd offer all of them with a long wait-list and this year we were only able to offer about 380."

'Bit of a shock'

The situation is similar at Holland College. 

According to the school, both its residences are also full and a waiting list has begun. 

"The reason why I said I wanted to study in Charlottetown was college, because the school was a perfect fit," said Ivan Samonte, who planned on going to Holland College. 

"Then I found out about some of the factors like housing, which was a little bit of a shock to me."

When it came down to the totals, I actually saved a little bit of more money if I lived in Ontario just because of the housing costs.— Ivan Samonte

Samonte is from the Philippines and currently resides in Singapore. He said he spent about five months looking for a two- or three-bedroom home he and his family can live in on P.E.I. 

"I had to look for an affordable place and the most affordable place I found was [a] 30 to 45 minute drive away," he said. 

"I needed to buy a car."

Samonte said he is looking at all his options and is considering moving to other provinces for school. 

"I was doing computations all throughout the year wherein I would be spending transportation, housing, everything else and when it came down to the totals I actually saved a little bit of more money if I lived in Ontario just because of the housing costs."

New residence coming to UPEI

Back at UPEI, work is underway to address the demand.  A new residence building is under construction and is expected to be ready by 2023. 

"That'll be another 260," said O'Laney. 

"With that long wait-list and more people wanting to come to UPEI, it was definitely good timing to put a new residence up." 

'I think they've arranged it so that the sun hits every room at some point in the day,' says O'Laney. 'It's going to be beautiful.' (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

In the meantime, O'Laney said she understands finding a place to live can be stressful. So for students on the hunt, she recommends staying on top of the search by checking in with the school, going through your emails and taking care of yourself. 

"Don't let that ruin the excitement because it's still going to be a great year and we'll figure it out."

For families already living on the Island, she hopes they consider renting to students or getting involved with the university's homestay program.

"It's a year where we just need to get as much out of the capacity we have in Charlottetown as we can so that every student has a place to live." 

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