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Universities scramble to head off housing crunch

Double cohort expected to swamp housing units despite new residences

Ottawa Citizen - Saturday, July 13, 2002
by Elaine O'Connor

The University of Ottawa is scrambling for additional rental units in the city and is asking the public to offer up Ottawa apartments and rooms for rent, to head off what university officials agree is a serious student housing crunch that will only worsen next year.

Hélène Carty, director of marketing and communications, said the university will need to lease or build new residence buildings soon to deal with the enrolment overflow.

"We're encouraging the students to look early," said Ms. Carty. "We're always short of housing. We're going to ask people again to list their available rooms, to list their apartments."

Last year, 1,000 students were left to scramble for accommodations in September, she said.

Universities are increasingly worried about the added burden of housing a double cohort of first-year students in the fall of 2003, when more than 100,000 Ontario high school students from Grade 12 and OAC years graduate at once. About 60,000 are expected to enter universities.

But Ms. Carty said the university is already experiencing a 30 per cent increase in applications for admission for the upcoming academic year, likely due to students who have fast-tracked to avoid the double cohort.

More than 70,000 high school students applied to start university in Ontario this September, 10,000 more than last year. An estimated 6,000 are fast-trackers.

The University of Ottawa is home to 25,000 students, but has room for only 2,700 of them in its six facilities. There are waiting lists of two to three years for off-campus housing reserved for families.

Ms. Carty said they are viewing a new building under construction at Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street as one answer to student housing woes. "We're certainly considering this building," said Ms. Carty. "But in terms of negotiation, we continue to have interest in a number of sites."

The 16-storey, 212-unit building is being built by Groupe Lépine, a Montreal-based development company. The $30-million tower is due to be completed next spring.

Carleton University has 18,400 students, but has room for only 2,250 of them in eight residence facilities.

The university is in the process of building an addition to one of its residences to house another 400 students, said Bob Heath of Carleton's campus housing office.

There are usually more than 300 students on waiting lists for rooms, Mr. Heath said.

Both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University have built new residences in the past year to prepare for the boom, but demand still exceeds supply.

Affordable off-campus housing has also been hard to come by in Ottawa recently, which is not good news for students.

The rental vacancy rate in the city was just 0.8 per cent in 2001 and 0.2 per cent the year before, meaning only eight and two empty apartments were available for every 1,000 units.

Ottawa had Canada's tightest rental market during this period.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation forecasts the vacancy rate will reach about 1.4 per cent in Ottawa this fall, due to low interest rates spurring home ownership and increased construction.

The figure may be offset by future demand.

"The prime renter age group of 15 to 24 has been growing across Ontario," said Robin Wiebe, a market analyst with the CMHC.

And there's no guarantee available units will fall within students' price range. The average rent in the city has increased from $640 in 1990 to $914 in 2001, up from just $877 the year before.

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