U of R students struggling to find places to live

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Regina’s vacancy rate among worst in the country

Sophie Long
Contributor

If you’re looking for somewhere in Regina to live, give up.

Regina has finally been recognized as one of the better places to live in Western Canada, but unfortunately this means it has also become one of the more expensive places for residents. Rent in Regina has risen by an average of $200 in the past four years due to the continued demand for housing. Landlords, aware that there are more people looking for homes than there are places to live, have raised their prices.

In a report done by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation this spring, Regina tied Quebec City and Kingston for the second-lowest vacancy rate. Quebec City’s population is four times that of Regina, so their low vacancy rate is accurate as a major tourist and city centre.

The situation in Kingston is similar to Regina, with a comparable population and quick growth in the past few years. However, this isolates Regina as the city with the lowest vacancy rate in western Canada. The second-lowest vacancy rate in Saskatchewan is double Regina’s.

For students, there are very few options. The vacancy rate in Regina’s Wascana-University area is a mere 0.2 per cent, which means getting an apartment anywhere near campus will be a daunting task as well as an expensive one. Surprisingly, the university’s area was not the lowest vacancy rate in Regina, with the northwest’s rate at zero per cent. Meanwhile, central Regina’s average vacancy rate rose to 1.4 per cent, which means this area would be the easiest to find somewhere to live.

Students coming to the University of Regina from out of town can have trouble finding somewhere to live. Taylor Hackman, a first year student, started university this year and moved into residence from Saskatchewan Beach.

“It was impossible to find somewhere affordable to live,”  she said. “I ended up on the waiting list for residence. It was stressful not knowing if I’d have somewhere to live once classes started.”

The main decision for students from out of town is to choose between living in residence and living in an apartment. Living in residence seems to be a popular option for new students, but many students choose to live off campus by their second year. This is partly due to high cost of living in residence. The lowest price for living in residence is just over $2,000 per semester. Compared to living near university, a student sharing a two-bedroom apartment would pay roughly $400 per month for four months. That ends up being 20 per cent cheaper than living on campus; the savings alone could cover textbooks for the semester. Living in an apartment also means no rules: no bedtimes, no visitor allowance and no meal plans.

Finding an apartment near the university is almost impossible, as Hackman found out. Residence seems to be the only option if you’re looking to live near campus, since the area has almost no vacancy. Central Regina has the highest vacancy rate, and therefore rent is a little cheaper there, but students must find a way to and from the university. That may include buying a parking pass and contending with hundreds of other students for somewhere to park. The overall cost of living off-campus for students is almost always at least $2,000 per semester.

For Hackman, another option was to simply live at home and drive into Regina every day. The cost of gas in and out of the city would be equal to rent at the end of a semester, and Saskatchewan highways in the winter are dangerous to begin with. Taylor was lucky she had the option to drive into the city; there are students here from out of the province who are forced to choose between residence and a rented house or apartment somewhere in the city.

Despite all these options, none of them really seem ideal. Students in Regina are constantly struggling to find somewhere safe and affordable to live. Split rent may only be $400, a price too steep for students. In order to have somewhere to live, a student must work at least 20 hours a week at a minimum-wage job. It seems unfair students must sacrifice grades and time in order to go to school.

Five years ago, this wasn’t the case. Regina’s vacancy rate was well above three per cent and rent was more than a third lower than it is now. Regina has experienced steady economic growth in the past few years and there are thousands of new residents in Regina each year. This is a possible explanation for the slow rise in vacancy rates since 2008, when it appears our city was at its worst for cost of living.

Vacancy has slowly risen in the past few years, albeit marginally; by the end of the year, it is expected to reach more than one per cent overall.

Bill Hutchinson, the Sask Party MLA for Regina South, said he believed the solution was in our economy.

“If the economy continues to grow, we can build more student housing,” he said. “That relieves some of the battle for housing, as we have students and single mothers competing for places to live right now.”

However, the provincial New Democrats claim to have their own solution. And, with a provincial election coming up this fall, they’re looking to make Regina’s rent crisis a campaign issue.

“In the weeks ahead, we will be outlining further tangible steps we would take to provide more affordable housing,” Saskatchewan NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter, who is also the MLA for Regina Douglas Park, said in a recent press release.

The recent economic growth has caused unwanted stress for students in Regina as they struggle to find affordable places to live, but it appears relief is on its way. Both the New Democrats and the Sask Party – as well as Regina’s city council – are aware that low-income and student housing are high priorities, and vacancy rates are slowly rising. Rent is still unbelievably high, but some of this will ease as new housing becomes available. Until then, students will just have to deal with the added stress of finding a home that is both safe and affordable.

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