Changes in Waterloo housing options

For the past few years there has been a battle raging on University Avenue between apartment buildings and houses. These days, it looks like the apartments are winning. But this wasn’t always the case.

For students attending the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University 10 to 15 years ago, houses were the way to go in terms of off-campus accommodations. Part of this was due to a lack of apartment buildings in the areas surrounding the universities.

“There was the odd apartment building,” recalled Meghan Herman, who graduated from Laurier in 2004.

But typically, she said, students didn’t want to live there because a house allowed for more space and more roommates. The apartments at the time only provided one or two bedroom setups. For the same reason, Davis Neable, a UW alumna, said she and her three roommates always looked for a house.

“I feel like apartments or condos are just a newer thing,” said Neable, who graduated in 2000. “They weren’t necessarily part of our common vocabulary back in the day.”

Herman feels student expectations in terms of the quality of their accommodations have also changed.

“When we were students, you kind of roughed it and that was it,” she said. “We didn’t have any new options.”

Jennifer Shingler and Mike Milovick have been landlords in Waterloo for around 20 years. They are partners in BSD Properties/JLB Rentals with two others. Shingler said students seem to expect houses to be furnished and have multiple bathrooms because that is what they see in the newer apartment buildings.

“A lot of the apartments have granite counter tops and things like that and they expect that level of finishing at a price that is about $300 or $400 less,” Milovick said.

As well, group sizes seem to be decreasing. Shingler said they used to own a seven-bedroom house but started to find it was difficult to fill. Then they began offering five bedroom places.

“But I found even this year challenging to find a group of five people that wanted to live together,” she said. Instead, many of the inquiries she received from students have been about two and three bedroom accommodations.

According to Zach Pajtasz, marketing representative at Places4Students, proximity and rental rates have consistently been important factors to students over the years.

“You’ve probably noticed that there is a ton of purpose-built student housing that’s popping up with lots of luxury amenities,” he said. “A lot of these amenities do appeal to students but they really don’t take precedence over traditional amenities that students are more concerned about.”

Proximity was important for both Neable and Herman at the time.

“Ezra Street was definitely the place you wanted to live,” Herman noted.

In Pajtasz’s opinion, the student preference toward apartments has to do with the fact that there are now more apartment buildings closer to the universities than there are houses. Current Laurier students Sam Sharratt and Shantelle Matos confirmed location was a large factor in choosing where to live off campus. But Matos said she struggled to find a place that fit her needs.

“It’s hard to find a house that includes all utilities, and free laundry is a major thing for me,” she said.

While Matos did eventually find a house, Sharratt said she ended up signing a lease for an apartment.

“Mostly once I saw how close it was to be completely honest,” she said. “And I knew the conditions of other houses in the area that would have been as close. They are typical — I don’t want to say run down — but in rough conditions.”

Rent has also gone up over the years. Neable and Herman confirmed that rent was generally between $400 and $450 per month.

“It’s not affordable student housing anymore,” Milovick said. “I think a lot of the development is also geared toward luxury.”

Some of the apartment buildings have fitness facilities, poker lounges and theaters. Pajtasz explained that students now are willing to pay between $400 and $700 per month. But despite the larger expense that comes along with apartments, he said the surplus of housing in Waterloo may help lower this.

“Rent is increasing, obviously, but I think with the surplus of student housing this might start to balance it out,” he said. “Because students are willing to spend a bit more but at the same they are still on a student budget so rent remains relatively competitive and I think the more competition in this market will kind of balance out the rental rates.”

This surplus in housing also gives students a great variety of options to choose from.Neable recently moved back to Waterloo and said she views apartments themselves in a positive light, but is disappointed with the city planning that’s been done around the development along University Ave.

“I think they look atrocious,” she said. “I never take that exit off the highway because it makes me ashamed that we can be such a progressive society and have just these clumps of condo buildings with seemingly no rhyme or reason.”

Despite this, students still seem to be drawn to what the apartment buildings have to offer.

“I haven’t really heard too many positive things,” Sharratt said in reference to student houses. “My building is a newer model and it just suited everything we needed.”

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