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Reading, writing and rental woes

Students face market with fewer units, skyrocketing rents

Ottawa Citizen - Friday, August 31, 2001
by Melanie Brooks


Students are facing the most severe housing shortage in 20 years, with low vacancy rates and skyrocketing rents making it almost impossible to find affordable apartments.

At 0.2 per cent, vacancy rates haven't been this low since 1982. But what's more serious than availability is the cost of renting.

Landlords are restricted by provincial guidelines when it comes to raising rents for existing tenants. This year, the maximum increase allowed is 2.9 per cent, and as of January, it rises to 3.9.

But when landlords rent to a new tenant, they can raise the rent as much as they want. Last year, that was 12.6 per cent.

That means average rent for two-bedroom apartments in Ottawa shot up to $882, an increase of $100 from the year before. And landlords are looking to raise rents by a further three per cent to cover the rising cost of heating.

"That's making it tougher for students," said Luigi Caparelli, president of the Eastern Ontario Landlords Organization. "They're the ones who are moving all the time, so the landlord can raise the rent in between students.

"Students coming in to rent right now are forced to pay the market rate."

At the same time, the number of rental units has been going down. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp.'s yearly rental market report, there were 68,771 apartment units in Ottawa last year, down from 72,463 a decade earlier.

Some students still haven't found affordable housing, and university classes start next week. Dozens of students are still calling university housing offices each day, and countless others are checking out the notice boards for off-campus housing and online postings.

"It's my first time away from home, and I don't know where I'm going to live yet," said John Pangos, a first-year Carleton student from North Bay. "It gets you kind of nervous."

Waiting lists for university housing have reached the thousands this year, even with the creation of two new residences at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University -- a total of 1,000 new beds.

To help alleviate the student housing crisis, the YMCA hostel, Shenkman Residence, has converted some of its rooms into university-style residences. Rob Boyd, manager of housing for the YMCA, said there are already 42 people booked for the school year, and he's preparing for more.

"The next week will probably be really hectic. People are still looking for a place to live, or for a room to rent while they look," he said. "Given the rental market, they've decided to stay here."


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