B.C. is home to some of the most expensive rental markets in the country, but it is also home to some of Canada’s most prestigious universities. With students set to return to campus in the coming weeks, the crunch to find housing is on.
Social media groups for students looking for housing have filled with posts like one from Seemal Farouq, saying she’s spent a month and a half looking for a place in Vancouver with no luck.
“Any place I find, whether shared or not, is over $2,000 and the ‘reasonable’ price ones are sold even if I message someone within the first three minutes of their posting,” she wrote. “I know I’m not the only one going through this, but at the same it also feels super isolating and I’m genuinely wondering what other people are planning to do to deal with this.”
Melissa Chirino is the chairperson for the B.C. Federation of Students. She said the issue is widespread across B.C., though Vancouver and Victoria are the most challenging cities for students to find housing in.
“It’s just hard when you look at the housing market and compare that to a student’s wage, it doesn’t add up. How are students supposed to afford that without outside support? Not all students have that.”
Chirino said it’s common for students to live with five or more roommates just to make ends meet.
“People are working two or three jobs to afford getting a place. It makes it a lot more difficult for students to study full-time while having those on the side.”
Some students end up deferring their education or dropping out altogether because they are unable to afford the high costs associated with going to school.
Chirino, who is an international student from Curaçao, said she wouldn’t have come to study in B.C. if she had known how expensive it was going to be.
“People from the government of Canada came to present on why students should go to Canada to study. In their presentation, they compared Canada, the U.S. and Holland. They said Canada was the most affordable choice, which is essentially why I chose Canada. I thought it was going to be more affordable, but I ended up moving to B.C. and I got a reality check here.”
While it won’t solve the housing crisis facing students, the BC Rent Bank is offering emergency support to students who are struggling to find housing.
Melissa Giles, project lead with the BC Rent Bank, said the organization is working on creating more awareness around rent bank services so students know they can access support if they need it.
“Rent banks are here to help people through an immediate crisis. Students who are facing challenges paying for rent or essential utilities can look to a rent bank as a possibility of something they can use to pay for those costs and make sure they stay housed.”
Students must be 19 years of age or older to qualify for financial assistance from a rent bank, they must be able to demonstrate that the financial assistance will stabilize their housing beyond the immediate crisis, and be capable of repaying the loan.
Aside from interest-free loans, rent banks offer wrap-around support to connect students with community resources that ensure they have access to other support.
“Students may want to start with a phone call because if they don’t have a source of income the chances of them qualifying for a loan just isn’t there. Rather than putting them through that process, a quick chat with a case manager might help more as far as finding other services in the community.”
Ultimately, there is no quick fix to B.C.’s housing crisis and in the meantime, students will continue to struggle.
“It’s just not affordable,” Chirino said. “People should be able to get housing without having to get more than two jobs to afford it. It doesn’t make sense how anyone is able to afford housing here.”