Photos by Catherine Goce
Finding off-campus housing can be a stressful experience for McMaster students for a variety of reasons, and it does not look like that will change anytime soon. With the increased number of students enrolled at the university, off-campus housing is becoming harder to find.
According to McMaster University official statistics, more than 27,000 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled at the university this year, a figure 20 per cent higher than the 22,558 undergrad students enrolled five years ago.
According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, the student housing supply has not been able to keep up with the rising demand.
The number of students seeking housing through Spotted Properties has tripled over the past year, easily surpassing the number of new properties the company has taken on.
“With McMaster taking on so many people, there are a lot of people saying they can’t find a house,” Parashis said.
Much of the increase in demand can be attributed to the increase in international students, who Spotted Properties work with regularly.
In 2014-2015, McMaster had 1,499 full-time international undergraduates. This year, that number has doubled.
According to Parashis, another contributing factor this year is the higher number of first year students that have come to Spotted Properties to find accommodation.
McMaster currently cannot accommodate all first-years in residence. Instead, only incoming first-years with an average of 83.5 per cent or higher are guaranteed residence placement.
To accommodate incoming students, the university is developing two new residences: the Peter George Living and Learning Centre, slated to open this fall, and an off-campus residence, scheduled for August 2021.
Yet, with the Peter George Living and Learning Centre adding only 500 beds, some first-year students will likely still have to find non-residence accommodations next year.
One of the byproducts of increased housing demand is higher prices.
“We’re renting houses out for an average of $550 dollars right now,” Parashis said. “Our most expensive places are about $700 a room, which is very high. The problem is there’s such a lack of good quality homes, so it allows landlords to demand high prices if they offer premium product.”
Students are also forced to live further from McMaster.
“We have people going as far as Dundurn to rent,” said Parashis.
These issues are compounded by existing problems in the student housing industry, such as pervasive landlord discrimination.
“Many landlords have negative stereotypes of people and have made judgement based on race, gender and even university program, which isn’t fair,” said Parashis.
These biases make it frustrating for students, who are often not given an equal chance at securing a house.
An especially frustrating situation can occur when landlords break an agreement with students before a contract is signed or a payment is made.
Parashis says students independently negotiating with landlords are susceptible to this problem, leading them to employ companies like Spotted Properties, which use a standardized transaction process.
Spotted Properties, which is run by former McMaster students, is working to address these issues by ensuring contracts and policies align with current best practice guidelines and providing 24/7 service to tenants.
In addition, the company is working closely with agencies abroad to reserve homes for international students at the university.
The McMaster Students Union has also been working to improve students’ experiences with off-campus housing, pushing the city of Hamilton to go forward with a landlord licensing pilot project.
Despite these efforts, student housing issues are many, and the solutions remain unclear. Addressing them will likely require concerted efforts from all parties involved.