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Toronto's four universities will collaborate on student housing study

A new collaboration between Ryerson, the University of Toronto, York and OCAD called StudentDwellTO will take a closer look at the housing crunch over the next two years.

Amy Campbell is part of a team studying student housing in Toronto.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Amy Campbell is part of a team studying student housing in Toronto.

Ryerson urban-planning student Amy Campbell counts herself lucky. She was able to find a room in a downtown house through a friend.

"But I know that isn't always the case for a lot of people," the 26-year-old said. "If I didn't have that opportunity, I think it would have taken a lot longer."

In a city where even the people making good money have trouble finding apartments, students are especially vulnerable. A new collaboration between Ryerson, the University of Toronto, York and OCAD called StudentDwellTO will take a closer look at the housing crunch over the next two years.

"Having a fixed income and trying to maintain a certain grade-point average while working as much as you can to make rent is certainly a stress that I think every student faces, especially with rent increasing," said Campbell, who's part of the research team.

The study will involve 11 classes and more than 100 students and faculty members across the four universities as well as community and city partners, said Ryerson's lead researcher Shelagh McCartney.

It will build off StudentmoveTO, a cross-university initiative that addressed transportation.

"The presidents wanted to do something about housing because housing affordability in Toronto is a very big issue, and not just for students — for everyone," said McCartney, an urban-planning professor.

The schools will compare existing data sets and collect new ones through a student survey and focus groups. Students will also look at what other places around the world are doing.

"The thing we are pushing in this is that this isn't just a study of housing; it's actually an advocacy platform as well," said McCartney.

"To me, it's really exciting: the first time it's really happened where all the researchers and all these people have gotten together to not only see what the problem is but to think of creative and innovative solutions."

Maya Menezes, a recent U of T alumna, says it took her months to secure housing as a student. When she finally did find something in Kensington Market, "the trade-off (was) that I was in a windowless room and I stayed there for five years."

"Obviously it's really, really unaffordable," she said, adding many students are so afraid of losing housing that they don't approach landlords with maintenance concerns, and housing often stays within groups of friends.

York graduate student Nick Brownlee, a research assistant on the project, said the topic comes up all the time among students he knows.

"People have huge commutes to campus," he said. "They can't afford to live outside of their parents' places. So it affects educational opportunities, it might affect their quality of life. And it's all anecdotal, so that's why you do research; you want to know more."
 

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