Peterborough Green UP
New Canadians Centre
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Artwork by Irene Suvillaga

More Students, Less Housing

Written by
Irene Suvillaga
and
and
October 21, 2021

The housing crisis of recent years has been an ever-increasing threat to the Peterborough community. As we all know, housing is fundamental.  While finding adequate and affordable housing was at one time considered  a slight nuisance, today it is a nerve-racking burden. With rent prices outpacing wage increase, income stagnation among a large portion of the community, and no new rental housing units built in the last ten years, the real estate market has become a battleground for both locals and internationals alike.

More Students, Less Housing
Artwork by Irene Suvillaga

According to United Way Peterborough’s 2020 Housing Report, the average rent price has increased so much that even someone who makes $30,000 annually is not able to afford an apartment in the city. So as the gap between rental costs and home ownership unceasingly widens, renting becomes the most desirable option among community members, straining an already cluttered market in terms of availability and affordability.

With the pandemic acting as the key ingredient for disaster, students fled Peterborough as COVID-19 started to take hold of the world last year. This unprecedented desertion had a devastating impact on the pockets of landlords. But now, as in-person classes resume, students from different cities, provinces and countries all flood the city, eager to return to a sense of normalcy, just to be hindered by the unforeseen obstacle of house hunting. The issue of housing involves the pondering of convenience, comfort and cost-effectiveness. Many students opt to come together and search for houses as a collective in order to live with friends rather than with strangers - a wise choice if you ask me. However, this safe, fun and convenient approach to renting seems to be futile in our current context. I had the opportunity to discuss these challenges with several individuals in the Peterborough community, many of whom expressed a similar sense of impotence when seeking rentals as a group. 

Although many students have struggled with finding adequate and affordable housing in previous years- myself included, the pandemic has triggered significant rent increases as landlords seek to find venues that will allow them to recover from the economic losses of 2020. The economic noose has tightened around the necks of both landlords and tenants alike. Yet, tenants seem to bear the most devastating consequences, fighting to put a roof over their heads. According to an article by Peterborough Currents, a wave of N12 legal eviction forms has fallen upon local renters like a plague as landlords seek to evict them in order to increase rent for future tenants, or simply vacate the premises as out-of-town buyers purchase these properties.

Another article by Peterborough Currents exposed how the City of Peterborough has measured a 20 percent increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the first six months of 2021. 

25-year-old Mathew Kolodziejczak, who is searching for housing in Peterborough before attending Fleming's firefighting program, expressed his difficulties navigating the housing market during our interview.

 “I need a place by next month, but the availability and affordability is extremely low. We have to either decide on being homeless or live on 50 dollars a month because all your money goes to rent just to afford something that is half decent. And on top of that, given my situation, if say, you have 20 places that are completely available to you, if you add a pet to that, those 20 options are narrowed to two. Peterborough is completely devoid of pet-friendly housing and the possibility to enter this program is hanging by a thread.” 

But what does this further mean to incoming and returning students who have not yet learned the ways of Peterborough’s housing market? 

International students are more prone to landlord abuse and have a harder time distinguishing between fighting for their rights as a tenant and maintaining a good relationship with the owner out of fear and respect. This is because they may be unaware of tenant rights, unfamiliar with the rental market or don’t have relatives or friends to help them navigate tough situations. Some of these students have faced harassment, unjustified prices and payment demands due to this. 

Rhythm Singla, a 21-year-old Trent Biology student expressed their disheartening experience with Peterborough landlords; 

“[our last housing option] was full of bugs, rats, roaches… On the second day of moving in, the landlord barged into our bedrooms at 11 pm at night, without any notice or knocking on the door, and started screaming at us, demanding to show him where the bugs were. We were devastated and on telling him that he cannot harass us this way and we could go to the police, he kicked us out. We had to find a place to move within one night.”

During the interview, Rhythm recounted several experiences of this sort. She recalled another incident which occurred before leaving her previous rental place in September 2020:

“Before moving we ‘deep cleaned’ the entire house even though this is something that the owner gets done before renting the place to new tenants. Even after doing that the landlord emailed us demanding money for getting the pest control in the place we wouldn't even be living in. On refusing to pay, we were sent a terrible email saying all sorts of things like ‘I hope something happens to you that will teach you a lesson and later in life you'll realize what you all did to me and how you did not pay me.”

It is also important to acknowledge however, that these situations are not solely experienced among the international body -- domestic students can also be prey to vulturine landlords.   

Landlord. Artwork by Karen Arnold.

With the demand increasingly surpassing the supply, students have no alternative but to settle for houses that are barely fit to be lived in. Landlords become increasingly picky as they can afford the luxury of increasing rent while brushing aside many of their responsibilities. There is a clear discrepancy between their profit as a home-owner and their responsibilities as a landlord.  

This issue becomes increasingly problematic with the return of international students. For many, the possibility of looking at a house first-hand/in-person is nearly impossible. With border security requiring proof of housing, students have no other choice but to either sign one year leases with no real knowledge of what they are getting into, or having to share a room with other students as they look for a place of their own. 

Take the case of Gaurav Goyal and Rajat Mehta, both third year students from India who described similar experiences in their quest to find housing once living in Peterborough. While Rajat looked for a place, he shared a room with his friend, but soon the landlord was asking for $300 extra, claiming that the bills were too high and so he needed the money. Goyal, on the other hand, slept on the floor of one of his friend’s rooms in a house already packed with eight other students. 

“For nine days I crashed at my friend's place, using my jacket as a pillow and my other jacket as a comforter,” said Gaurav.

Another example is given by Sanya Mehta and a group of second year domestic students who were looking to rent a place in Peterborough for the first time. Despite several emails and hours dedicated to online scrolling, the group was unable to find a place below $2,100 excluding utilities. When they finally found a house, their current residence, it was described as “sketchy”. The landlord gave a viewing through Facetime, only showing “the good parts of the place,” just to move in to find broken kitchen cabinets and two-month-old food left in the fridge by previous tenants.

“We spent 6 days cleaning the house and even after that [the place] was not liveable.” 

 So as Elizabeth Beaney accurately described it  in ‘"Students Want to be Students: The Housing Crises in Toronto and Peterborough", “vulnerable renters like students are being taken advantage of by predatory landlords and put in dangerous, dissatisfactory housing situations, often with little to no tenant rights.”

With many students expressing feelings of marginalization, stress, and frustration, a sense of ‘you gotta do what you got to do, so suck it up’ hovers among us. Students seem to be facing significantly precarious housing situations - struggling to find affordable housing that is well-maintained, properly cleaned and suitable for their needs, a problem that was not brought to our attention in Trent’s welcome pamphlet, and a threat that does not seem to be getting any better with Trent’s steady increase in enrolment and Peterborough’s stagnant housing projects. 



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