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What it’s like renting as a student in Calgary

By Jillian Cung, August 11 2022

Calgary’s tight rental market is leaving many people panicked about housing, especially university students. The University of Calgary’s residences are at capacity — with waitlists overwhelmed for every residence building. Additionally, Calgary’s less than one per cent vacancy rate is exacerbating the unaffordable rental market. According to Hope Street Management, there has been a 29 per cent increase in rental prices since the beginning of 2022 in Calgary. Rentals.ca reports that the average monthly cost of a one-bedroom rental property in Calgary was $1,562 in June 2022. Assuming a student works full-time at 30 hours a week for minimum wage leaves them with rent eating away the vast majority of their income. 

“But when there’s a shortage of rental housing, people die and nobody wants that. No landlord, no tenant, no advocacy group, no one,” said Shamon Kureshi, the president and CEO of Hope Street Management. 

I believe the current rental market reflects the Canadian housing crisis — people are moving to Calgary for more affordable housing. The growing demand is something landlords and rental companies are taking advantage of. However, the hasty increase in the rental market is an unexpected cost renters are faced with. Unfortunately, the tight rental market will have consequences, not just for students, but for anyone dependent on renting. The issue with low supply and high demand is it creates vulnerable people. People will not have stable and safe housing.   

“The current rental market is tight and what’s available often costs more than what students can afford. This is an access and affordability issue,” said Nicole Schmidt, the Students’ Union president. 

Other Calgarian renters believe that the unaffordable rental market is due to landlords attempting to take advantage of the market. The rise of financialization in the housing market will lead to less affordable rentals as large investors have begun purchasing Canadian rental properties.

“So it’s really just become a ridiculous price gouge”, said Calgarian Ashley Yaromy.

As a university student who is not from Calgary and is trying to figure out where I will be living during the upcoming academic year has been incredibly stressful. When I first decided to rent a room in a shared accommodation, I estimated roughly $550 per month. I knew that was on the lower end of the rental market, but at the time I made that estimation it was not too uncommon for a room rental in Calgary to be $500 per month. 

However, I soon faced reality — my budget in today’s market is not feasible. Despite increasing my budget to $650, there were slim pickings in the rental market, and it was becoming more common to see room rentals way beyond my budget. Even for renters who have a more flexible budget, it will be difficult to find a rental property due to their shrinking supply. Although I contacted landlords that had rentals within my price range, I was left with little response. Many of the emails I sent felt like they were going straight into the void as landlords are becoming overwhelmed with inquiries. Eventually, when I did get a reply often, it was a landlord informing me the property was already rented — despite the listing being posted the day before.

This experience is hardly uncommon as many renters are facing the same circumstances — one of low supply, high prices and bidding wars. I was in a fortunate financial situation to have some flexibility, but not everyone who rents is afforded the same opportunities. Will university students be forced to withdraw from courses if they are unable to find housing for the academic year? Will the university be taking the housing market into consideration as an unfortunate reality that causes a very real impact on the quality of a student’s academic life?

I have already figured out a temporary solution of couch surfing as a last resort. Talking to my peers, it seems that couch surfing will be more common than ever before. However, not everyone who is financially vulnerable will even be able to couch surf — especially if they are new students who do not have connections in Calgary. If the rental market continues to skyrocket, will financially vulnerable students be forced to cut their academic journey short? 

The reality is the cost of living plus tuition rising will force students to choose between a roof over their head or their education. When the cost of living is more than what minimum wage can afford it makes higher education less accessible and more of a luxury.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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