Survey indicates surplus of student beds in K-W

With the leveling of enrolment, it has become harder to fill student housing

Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

A recent survey into Waterloo student housing may have revealed the city’s supply will soon exceed its demand.

The survey, which was conducted in fall 2014, was undertaken by the Waterloo region Town and Gown Committee, an organization which serves to facilitate collaboration between post-secondary institutions and the municipalities in which they reside.

“Our overall vision is to improve the quality of life in a municipality with post-secondary institutions,” said Kathleen Hofer, president of the Ontario Town and Gown Association. “At this point we are comprised of stakeholders who would be municipal representatives, they would be from a post-secondary institution, and from a lot of the services that work within cities.”

The survey was two-fold, seeking to examine both the supply-and-demand aspect of student housing in Waterloo, as well as student expectations and satisfaction with regard to housing. The results generated indicated that there was a potential 1,196 bed surplus of student housing in Waterloo.

Work was done with both universities’ registrars’ offices to gain an understanding of student enrolment, while accounting for Laurier’s Brantford campus and any of the University of Waterloo’s satellite campuses. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo was then consulted with regard to the number of local students who attended either institution, with the final step being to factor in any local co-op students.

“We really worked kind of backwards to try and filter things down to try and get a supply-and-demand picture so that we can really get a sense of, okay, how many students are actually looking?” said Ryan King, manager of Off-Campus Living and Residence Assignments at the University of Waterloo and chair of the working group responsible for the survey. There are however limitations on the data, such as having accounted for every low-density housing licence in the city regardless of its occupants, or solely having included multi-residential buildings inside a set catchment area.

Nevertheless, the committee is confident their room for error is wide enough to account for these limitations, and their data could indicate a real surplus in the Waterloo market.They also believe this is only likely to grow given the continuous construction of student-geared housing in the area.

“I think Waterloo is a little further in the development of purpose-built [student] housing than most municipalities in Canada,” said Hofer.

The second half of the survey, the student feedback to which over 5000 responses were received, indicates that this purpose built housing may not always be meeting its customers’ needs.

“What’s available, and what we counted and we saw, was very much the four and five bedroom units,” said King. “There’s a lot of students who may not want that set-up, they may want a two or a three bedroom set-up, and sort of lower occupancy per unit.”The committee hopes that from the survey will come better education by the region and the universities with regard to students and housing, from accommodation licensing to tenant rights and responsibilities.

“The more educated they are, the more opportunity that a tenant has to be empowered,” said King.

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