Posted yesterday at 5:00am
“Housing construction is going faster than ever”
“Calls, I couldn’t do any more. It cried on the phone. People begged me to take them with me,” says Sylvie Carrier.
This summer, the social worker had the idea of renting rooms to students in her house in Trois-Rivières.
The phone didn’t stop ringing for days. At the end of the line, students are desperate for an affordable roof – or for a roof at all.
It was sad to see that. The problem is the lack of space. And the prices too.
Across Quebec, the student housing shortage is at a critical juncture.
So much so that many actors in the community are calling for a national strategy to deal with the crisis.
“Every year, but more and more, we hear stories of students being forced to live in hotels or on a couch for months,” notes Laurent Levesque, executive director and co-founder of the Student Housing Furnishings work unit (USE).
In Trois-Rivières, where the vacancy rate is below 1%, this is the scenario we are keen to avoid.
“It’s very difficult right now,” confirms Catherine Therrien, deputy director of student services at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières.
To cater to everyone, universities and CEGEPs need to be creative. And set up backup solutions (see the second article below).
It’s a lot of work to find a room here, a room there […]. We suspect that this is not enough to do justice to everyone.
Catherine Therrien, Deputy Director of Student Services at UQTR
With a student share of almost 25%, Sherbrooke is also affected by the crisis.
“Housing is building faster than ever this year,” said Marc-Antoine Bolduc, vice president of foreign affairs for the University of Sherbrooke Student Union.
According to a university survey, just over 100 international students were still looking for accommodation at the end of July.
“This situation is one of the most stressful I’ve ever faced,” says Izzy Pepper.
Since June, the English student has been answering all the housing advertisements in Sherbrooke without success. Now the countdown to back to school has begun. And Izzy has to come up with a plan B.
“If I can’t find anything, I rent an Airbnb,” says the man, who is learning French as a second language.
The same scenario also plays out in Gaspé, Chicoutimi, Rouyn-Noranda and Rimouski.
“It’s very, very difficult to find something affordable or anything, period,” notes Maya Labrosse, president of the Quebec College Student Federation.
The lack of housing isn’t the only obstacle, but so is rising rents — particularly in Montreal.
“Students have no choice but to move away or far exceed the budget they would have liked to spend on their housing,” notes Laurent Levesque.
And the student residences, which have the advantage of being very cheap, are full.
At the University of Québec in Rimouski (UQAR), almost 100 students are waiting for a place in a hall of residence.
What we’re hearing is that some students aren’t sure yet if they can register because they haven’t found accommodation yet.
Jean-François Ouellet, Director of Student Community Services at UQAR
Year after year, the residences in the Université du Québec network have managed to accommodate all students on their waiting lists before the start of the school year.
“This year we are dealing with a different situation. The trend is that waiting lists are stagnant,” confirms Jean-Sébastien Gohier, Director of Material and Real Estate Resources and Office of Real Estate Projects at the Université du Québec.
So far, all students have been accommodated at the Cégep de Trois-Rivières. But even there, housing is in demand.
“Students are staying longer in dorms because costs have gone up and there are fewer options. This leaves fewer places available for new students,” notes Janie Trudel-Bellefeuille, coordinator of Cégep’s International Office.
“A Matter of Fairness”
“We’ve made the mistake of forgetting college dormitories in Quebec over the last few decades,” laments Laurent Levesque.
And those who suffer are the students, who often have no choice but to leave home to go to university, L’UTILE recalls.
Hence the urgency to address the issue head-on. And right now.
“There is an issue of equity in access to post-secondary education,” argues Mr Levesque.
CEGEPs and universities play with creativity
The countdown to back to school has begun. Universities and CEGEPs need to be creative when looking for housing.
Retirement homes, convents, boarding schools: the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières does not rule out any idea of finding a roof for its students.
“We have to be original in our approach,” argues Jean-François Hinse, head of media relations at the university.
No agreement has been reached yet, but negotiations are ongoing, he said.
“We are looking for volume. But the equipment must meet the needs of the students. It’s important for us to look around on site,” emphasizes Mr. Hinse.
A three-year contract for student accommodation in a hotel in Carleton-sur-Mer was signed at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles in June.
Nobody will end up on the streets, assures Marie-Claude Deschênes, spokeswoman for the Regroupement des cégeps de regions.
We have room for students. I’ve seen very creative solutions at the start of the school year: agreements with hotels, foster families, senior residences.
Marie-Claude Deschênes, spokeswoman for the Regroupement des cégeps de regions
For a few weeks now, the universities have been increasingly calling on the population to accommodate students or to keep up-to-date lists of available accommodation.
Hotels and monasteries can help, but we also need viable solutions, advocate local stakeholders. And a national strategy to deal with the crisis.
The urgency is all the greater as a wave of tens of thousands of additional students on the benches of CEGEPs is expected by 2029.
To relieve CEGEPs in the major centers that will be hit hardest, Quebec plans to attract 5,000 students to the regions over five years through its Parcours student mobility program.
“We are experiencing strangulation even without implementing this program, which is excellent news,” says Jean-François Ouellet, director of student community services at the Université du Québec à Rimouski.
To meet future needs, the facility hopes to get the green light from Quebec to fund a construction project that could house 100 students.
Bernard Tremblay, President of the Fédération des cégeps, agrees.
Several CEGEPs have urged the government to say new housing needs to be built.
Bernard Tremblay, President of the Cegeps Federation
The Department of Higher Education has allocated $58.9 million to build, refurbish and refurbish student housing for regional CEGEPs, spokeswoman Esther Chouinard said via email.
The CEGEPs of Gaspésie and the Islands, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, La Pocatière and the Collège d’Alma are particularly concerned about construction projects or the acquisition of student housing, she adds.
Instead, the UTILE organization focuses on building apartments specifically designed for students. His latest project, La Rose des vents, located in the eco-district of Angus, welcomed its first residents this summer.
On the eve of the provincial elections, the organization is asking the parties to commit to building at least 15,000 student rooms over 10 years, which corresponds to “5% of the need,” according to Élise Tanguay, USEFUL’s director of public affairs.
“It would be a first step to show that a red flag has been raised. We have to tackle this problem head-on because we’re going straight into the wall. In fact, we’re in the wall,” she concludes.
- Rent for an all-inclusive studio in a dormitory at the University of Quebec in Montreal
Source: University of Quebec in Montreal
- Average rent for an apartment available for rent in Montreal in 2021
Source: Montreal metropolitan area