UPEI students struggle to find space amid housing crunch

Some post-secondary students have been unable to secure housing on Prince Edward Island with less than a month left before the fall semester begins.

'This has been a tough year for finding housing,' says UPEI official

P.E.I.'s housing crisis is taking a toll on international students hoping to move here for the fall term. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Some post-secondary students are still trying to secure housing accommodations on Prince Edward Island with less than a month until the semester begins. 

Tanguy Rugamba, a fifth-year engineering student at UPEI, normally begins looking for housing in mid-August. This year, he started his search in July. He still hasn't had any luck.

"The school year is almost here and I don't know how it's going to work," he said.

"If I don't find a place by then, I'll have to stay [in] a hotel for the time being … because there's no other way I can do it."

About 400 people are on the waitlist at UPEI for a spot in one of the three on-campus residence buildings. 

Depending on the room, some students have been waiting since February. But all the slots had officially filled up by the middle of April. 

"This has been a tough year for finding housing," said Laura O'Laney, acting director for ancillary services at UPEI.

"It means a lot of stress and definitely emotions are high … we're receiving a lot of teary phone calls and doing whatever we can as a university to find them a place to stay."

Laura O'Laney, acting director for ancillary services at UPEI, says there are about 400 people on the waiting list for housing this year. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

Many international students searching

The school estimates that roughly 150 international students are still searching for a place to live, and right now even off-campus housing is proving difficult to come by. 

"They have been finding it very challenging to find [affordable] housing for next semester," said Jerry Wang, director of recruitment and international admissions at UPEI.

"Sometimes they do find something after some [searching] and then by the end I was like, 'Oh, sorry, it's already rented.'"

Wang said there are systems in place to help — for example, a homestay program and an off-campus housing co-ordinator, but those have challenges too. 

"We have been telling the students it's critical to have arranged the housing before their departure" from their home country, he said. 

"In the previous years, we have had students who just arrived with luggage. I have students arriving on campus and then … assuming that either we or somebody will find housing for them."

Limited options

It was a similar story last year. The rising price of housing on P.E.I. mixed with the low vacancy rate left students with limited options. 

"The rental situation is not very good, I can tell you for sure. It definitely isn't very good," said Assem Soliman, a UPEI finance student who moved from Egypt about a year and a half ago.

"It's not a very nice situation to be in."

Last year, Soliman rented a spot in Stratford, but he said he wanted something more affordable this year. 

On Thursday afternoon, after weeks of searching, he finally secured a place to live this semester.

The new residence building at UPEI is expected to be ready in 2023. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

A call for community help

A new residence is also in the works at UPEI. It will add an additional 260 spots. Both O'Laney and Wang are hoping that lessens the load. But it won't be ready for students to move into until September 2023. 

"We really need the community to do whatever they can to help us help these students find housing," said O'Laney. 

And for students still looking, she has a bit of advice: 

"Just keep trying. Keep making phone calls. Be patient. We're on your side and we'll figure this out together."


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