Call For Proposals: University Student Housing: Addressing the Affordability Challenge

Call For Proposals: University Student Housing: Addressing the Affordability Challenge

In 2015-2016, the presidents of the four Toronto universities collaborated on the StudentMoveTO initiative in order to develop the first-ever comprehensive survey of university student travel behavior, trends and needs across seven campuses in the GTA. A second collaborative initiative is now being proposed to address the unique housing affordability challenges faced by students attending Toronto universities.

The City of Toronto is the second most expensive housing market in Canada. In May 2016, the average cost of a detached home in the city was $1.28M, while the average cost of all home types was $782,051, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Rentseeker.ca (Fall 2015) suggests that the average rental cost for an apartment in Toronto ranged from $937 to $1,288 for bachelor, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments respectively. These averages do not reflect differences in location, proximity to the city centre (where three of the seven campuses of Toronto-based universities are located), or quality of housing and access to amenities. Furthermore, research conducted by Prof. David Hulchanski identifies a trend referred to as the ‘Three Cities’ in which city neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly polarized based on household income. The city’s core is transitioning to an enclave of wealthy households, while lower-income households are becoming more concentrated in the inner and outer suburbs of the GTA. The high cost of housing and the segregation of wealth and poverty in Toronto, combined with differential access to transit, present acute challenges for university students in their ability to secure affordable housing. Student incomes tend to be both low and fixed – making students especially vulnerable to increases in housing expenses.

StudentMoveTO identified the tradeoff that students are forced to make between housing and transportation. The cost of housing was identified by nearly one-quarter of survey respondents as the reason for their most recent move. Furthermore, when students were asked what would motivate them to change their main mode of transportation to campus, results indicated that “the most important motivator across all seven campuses was a change in home location; a sign students understand the relationship between transportation and housing” (StudentMoveTO, 3).

Implications of a lack of affordable housing for students are significant and include greater economic precarity, hidden homelessness, longer daily commute times, lower levels of campus engagement, and potentially compromised health and safety. Given that such a large proportion of the students attending the four Toronto universities come from lower-income families, the lack of affordable student housing can, at worst, act as a barrier to university attendance, further amplifying income disparities and negatively impacting future opportunities for increased prosperity.

In light of this situation, we propose that students and faculty from the four universities work together to:
1. Document the nature and extent of the current student housing affordability challenge, including the unique housing challenges faced by students, and

2. Identify creative initiatives that might address these housing challenges. Improved affordability may depend on zoning changes, innovative design solutions, novel financing mechanisms, social entrepreneurship or other shifts in municipal, provincial or federal policy.

The four university presidents will once again jointly contribute funds in the amount of $40,000 to support research and the formulation of potential solutions to address housing affordability for students.

Activities to be supported could include (but are not limited to) primary research, identification of international best practices, workshop/conference, design charettes, or prototype/policy development. The aim is to encourage the formation of multi-university, multi-disciplinary teams comprising both faculty and students, ideally working in concert with public sector partners and/or not-for-profit and community-based organizations.

Proposals should be based on teams comprising faculty and students from at least two of the four participating universities. If multiple proposals are received, the four presidents may opt to combine proposals and/or teams.

Proposals are due by 24 March 2017. Those interested in submitting a proposal should contact Professor Linda Peake, Director of the City Institute at city@yorku.ca