Government housing strategies must include options for students

A quality undergraduate education includes affordable student housing options in proximity to campus, the presidents of four universities in the Greater Toronto Area told a research conference this week.

 “There is nothing more fundamental to students’ success than having access to affordable housing,” University of Toronto President Meric Gertler told the audience.

The forum was convened to share preliminary results from the StudentDwell TO project, a research collaboration between faculty and students at the University of Toronto, York University, OCAD U, and Ryerson University. As with the StudentMove TO initiative, the four universities have joined forces in order to better understand their shared housing challenges and influence policy decisions. 

As leaders of higher education institutions in this city … We [share] a common set of challenges that arise from where we are … and the fact that Toronto is a global city, a fascinating, dynamic, diverse place with many advantages, but also many challenges,” President Gertler said. At U of T, for example, half of students are receiving financial aid. 

StudentMove TO tracked the travel patterns of students in the GTA, revealing that inadequate public transportation options are impacting students’ choices of courses, and their ability to balance study, extracurriculars and work. The research has been shared with local and regional transportation authorities such as Metrolinx, President Gertler said. 

“The results are informing daily decisions about how you design transportation in ways that improve students’ travel experience,” the University of Toronto President said.

The research comes at a time that multiple levels of government are looking for innovative solutions to provide affordable housing options. This week, the Ontario government released its new Housing Supply Action Plan, the results of its province-wide housing consultations. The plan includes a recognition that students need housing close to campus and that new housing options should include densification such as laneway housing, a priority for the University of Toronto. The federal government is also tackling the need for affordable housing through its National Housing Strategy plan.

It’s important that policy-makers understand the multiple impacts of unmet housing need on students’ lives, researchers said. Focus groups have revealed that unaffordable housing close to campus means students are living further away and curtailing social engagement, or taking on expensive and unstable housing, increasing their stress.

The research team – which includes Mauricio Quirós Pachecho, assistant professor at the John H. Daniels School of Architecture, Marcelo Vieta, assistant professor at OISE, and PhD student Ashish Pillai – expects to release recommendations later this year.

 Several early themes emerged from the conversations at the forum:


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