Published September 2, 2023

Housing crunch a hard lesson as Georgian College students gear up for another term

Threats, suspicious person call prompt evacuation and lockdown at Barrie high school, Georgian College

Georgian College officials say they have heard from both domestic and international students about challenges associated with finding affordable off-campus housing in some of their communities.

"That's due to a lack of available rentals, but also aligning with our student needs and budget," according to Megan Fenton, Director of Student Success at the college.

Georgian has campuses in Barrie, Orillia, Muskoka, Collingwood, Midland, Orangeville and Owen Sound.

Rentals-dot-ca reported that the average rent price for a one-bedroom apartment in Barrie climbed 10.2 per cent year-over-year for the month of July to $1,891.

As well, the average asking price for a rental unit in Canada went up in July to a record $2,078, which was 8.9 per cent higher than a year earlier.

"We've recognized over the years that our student housing needs have evolved," said Fenton. "Many students are choosing more diverse and unconventional housing arrangements beyond the traditional kind of dorm-style residence, and our students continue to show creativity as they balance the demands of education and employment to ensure that they can cover expenses as the cost of living increases."

For example, she says students are looking at opportunities to live in homes with communities of other students.

In April, Georgian College announced it was working with SpacesShared, a technology platform that connects students who need a place to live with older adults living at home.

"With SpacesShared, older adults can safely offer a spare bedroom for extra income, enjoy the company of a housemate, and get help with chores around the house all while giving students much-needed safe and affordable housing options," according to Georgian's website.

The first phase of the program has now launched in Barrie.

As of mid-August, there were 234 Georgian student accounts in the SpacesShared system, and while a few student matches have been made, no students have moved in yet, though Fenton anticipates that will change in the coming weeks.

There is a housing and outreach coordinator role at Georgian that is designed to support students at all of its campuses, and it has been so busy, the school will be adding an additional coordinator.

"This role supports students with housing search inquiries, so connecting them to available rentals in communities, supporting them with understanding where to find postings, but also supporting students with concerns that they may have in their current housing arrangements," explains Fenton.

She says one of the key things that Georgian recognizes is that access to housing is a key part of the student experience and is directly tied to the safety, wellbeing and belonging of the students.

Right now, the domestic and international student population at Georgian is about 50/50, and the international portion has increased over the past few years. In fact, Georgian has just over 12,000 full-time students across all seven campuses, and that includes 6,300 international students.

Georgian does have on-campus residences at three of its locations, including Orillia, that can house 192 students, at the Barrie campus for 524 students, and also dozens of student spaces at the site in Owen Sound.

The lack of affordable housing for all Canadians, including students, was a major focus of last week's cabinet retreat as the federal Liberals prepared their agenda for the fall sitting of Parliament.

Politicians promised concrete action on housing, but didn't put any specific new programs on the table.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations has called on the federal government to spend $3.2 billion to build 15,000 residence units across the country within six years.

As for new on-site builds at any of the Georgian campuses, Fenton says she does not have confirmation in terms of where the school is moving forward with that type of development.

"There is absolutely an opportunity for conversations with our municipal partners around a collaborative approach to supporting housing in our community," she added. "What we're really focusing on is supporting the community-based infrastructure for students and looking at alternatives that align with student needs within the communities in which our students are studying."

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