As classes return to campus, Dalhousie University has limited its residence capacity to 80 per cent this fall, housing around 1,800 students instead of the 2,300 they did prior to the pandemic, according to a statement on the university’s website.
As the average rent in Halifax continues to grow, many students who weren’t able to secure a spot in residence are rushing to find a place to stay with little luck. “There’s a deadline in finding a place” said Neo Ragsac, a third-year international student in marine biology. Ragsac’s residence application was rejected, “If we don’t find a place, we will be homeless. And who wants to study on the sidewalk?”
University Explains Decision
After informing multiple students there would not be a space for them in residence this fall, Dalhousie posted an explanation for the rejections on their website.
The university’s update on the decision said “priority is given to current residence students who re-applied by our March deadline and new, direct-from-high-school students who applied by June 15. Demand for rooms among these groups is high, leaving very little space available for current students.”
There are also still no roommates in residence, further reducing capacity, according to Verity Turpin, Dal’s acting vice-provost of student affairs.
“We want to make sure that, when students are coming back to campus this fall, they will have their own space,” Turpin said in an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette.
“We didn’t want the students to worry about their roommates or their roommates’ vaccination status,” she said. Turpin spoke to the Gazette prior to Dalhousie’s announcement of a vaccine mandate.
Turpin said plans for the return of post-secondary students to residence are strongly regulated by the province of Nova Scotia, which is currently in phase 4 of its reopening plan.
“They are the health experts, they are the COVID-19 experts,” said Turpin. “They helped us put together a plan of what a safe environment in residence looked like,” she said.
The Struggle to Find Housing
Some students who received residence rejections have been scrambling to find living accommodations in Halifax.
This is no easy task, as Nova Scotia is currently facing what many journalists and activists call a housing crisis. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax has increased by 20 per cent in the last year, according to a national rent rankings report from Rentals.ca – a website that lists available rental properties across Canada.
While the housing market becomes more competitive by day, students are left with less and less affordable accommodations close to campus.
Bhamidipati Srikanth is a prospective computer science master’s student who has been searching for housing in Halifax since July.
One issue facing students, Srikanth said, is that the timeline of leases is more accommodating for landlords than students. According to Srikanth, landlords often want students to take leases beginning in May rather than September, which makes finding sublets harder for students who go home in the summer.
He also said some landlords advertise low rent prices, but increase the listed rent just before students sign the lease.
To find decent pricing, students like Srikanth sacrifice personal space, often by doubling up in rooms. In the past, he’s had to share a three-bedroom apartment with six people simply to afford a place to live. “Sharing a single bathroom is quite tough,” he said.
Mathew Ghirardi, a third-year engineering student from Ontario, said poor landlord communication makes searching difficult. “By the time you see their advert they’ll have sold the place or are waiting on a group to respond. Knowing where to look for housing too is a little tricky, since many sites are fraudulent or outdated.”
Besides affordability in housing, fair treatment from landlords when applying for a lease has become a concern for students. “When we go through some websites, they say that rooms are available, but when we really put an application, we get rejections,” Srikanth said. Srikanth and Ghirardi mostly used Kijiji during their searches.
Srikanth believes his rejections –– as an international student from India –– could be because of landlords’ prejudice, “They don’t believe we can really afford rooms. Showing our property in our home country is not sufficient for them.”
DSU hopes to work with Dal on issue
Madeleine Stinson, president of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), said the union is concerned about this issue. “I think we’re going to end up with a lot of students showing up to Halifax with nowhere to stay,” said Stinson. “International students and out of province students may be showing up for school and going to stay at Airbnbs and hotels hoping to find a place within a week, which if you’ve ever looked for an apartment in Halifax, you know isn’t easy.”
The DSU has begun asking Dal for alternative support, “We’re hoping Dal will partner on us with a bursary for students. A fund to help students pay for basic deposits, basic home furnishing. Things that are a given in residence that might be an unexpected expense for students who’ve been cut out.”
Dalhousie has a housing advisor to answer students’ questions about rent, utilities and amenities. Similarly, there is an off-campus housing website to facilitate the search for a living accommodation.
But Stinson said these services need improving, “Dal should add more people to the off-campus housing team because right now there’s one person working on that team to support a student population of twenty thousand.”
The Dalhousie off-campus living team
The “one person” Stinson was referring to, Off-campus Housing Adviser, Peri Lockhart, was unable to speak with the Gazette prior to the publication of this article.
Her colleague, Student Engagement Coordinator, Rigel Biscione Cruz, was able to answer some questions about off-campus housing. Cruz coordinates with Lockheart on off-campus housing issues.
“Peri takes on the majority of the work in helping students,” said Cruz. “But we work with other offices, the residence office for example. So, if students reach out to residence coordinators they can be helped there as well.”
The off-campus housing team helps students understand ideas like how to find accommodations, spot fraud and what their rights are as tenants. They answer questions and can even help pair prospective roommates with off-campus living arrangements.
Cruz said a bursary from Dalhousie or the DSU would be helpful, but called on the city for change.
“On one hand the school can support students where they can, but that doesn’t impact affordable housing in Halifax. There is a housing crisis in the city and that needs to be tackled first so we can do our job.”
Students struggling to find housing off campus are encouraged to contact Dalhousie Off-Campus Living by phone at (902) 494-2429 or by emailing Peri Lockheart at firstname.lastname@example.org.