student housing

Canada’s student housing pipeline

As the 2023 fall semester kicks off, affordable housing remains an issue
Monday, September 4, 2023

The student housing market in Canada is always a hot topic as September rolls around, but this year the situation seems more dire than ever. With skyrocketing rents and demand outstripping supply, the inability for many Canadian and international students to find suitable off-campus housing has dominated recent headlines.

“The student housing market in Canada has experienced varying degrees of housing supply challenges across different regions,” said Atiya Khan, Director, Marketing & Communications at Hazelview Properties. “While it’s important to note that housing supply challenges can be dynamic and subject to change, certain major cities with prominent universities, such as Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Montreal, have historically faced significant housing supply challenges.”

Significant indeed—so much so that in late August the federal government floated the idea of implementing a cap on international students to ease mounting pressure on the rental market. This, however, is not something universities and colleges support given the significant loss of income it represents to their institutions. Last year, Canada reportedly welcomed 800,000 international students, paying substantially higher tuitions and contributing billions toward Canada’s economy.

“Canada’s universities provide world-class education and attract top talent from across the globe to study at our institutions,” said Lisa Wallace, Assistant Director of Communications at Universities Canada, in a rebuttal statement. “Recent comments conflating international students and the housing crisis are deeply concerning to Universities Canada and our members. International students bring important knowledge, diversity and skills to our campuses, communities, and workforce. We must continue to welcome them to study at Canadian universities.”

But hope is on the horizon given the opportunities the supply deficit represents for those looking to fill it, and developers and investors are rightly taking note. According to Cushman & Wakefield’s 2023 Student Housing report, “strong demand, investor interest and growth in the sector through private and public partnerships” are contributing to a positive long-term outlook.

Published in April, the report revealed that Canada has 155,000 student housing beds in both university-owned (on-campus) and privately-owned (off-campus) properties spread throughout the 24 largest markets, representing 16 per cent of full-time students. For context, the top 175 American universities can house roughly 22 per cent of undergraduate students in on-campus housing, with purpose-built student accommodations (PBSAs) accounting for another 30 per cent. While Canada is lagging compared to the US and many European markets, data shows that the PBSA development pipeline is growing with significant demand and investor interest expected to feed it well into the future.

The story continues…

Currently, Canada has 25,700 student beds in various stages of development, in addition to multiple properties that opened in 2023. Known for their close proximity to  campuses, most privately-owned, purpose-built student accommodations are a great option for those second or third-year students seeking affordable, shared accommodations with age-appropriate amenities and programming on site.

One such property is the Story of Rideau & Chapel, serving under- and post-graduate students at the University of Ottawa. Located in Sandy Hill near the amenity-rich Byward Market, the 25-storey building launched earlier this summer using innovative strategies geared at international students and Canadians alike.

“Finding suitable housing for international students in markets with housing supply issues can be quite challenging,” Khan said. “International students often face unique hurdles, including unfamiliarity with local rental practices, budget constraints, and limited knowledge of the Canadian housing market. Language barriers and the need for accommodations that cater to their diverse needs can further complicate the process. Property management companies that offer dedicated resources and support tailored to international students, like Hazelview Properties, play a crucial role in easing this process.”

With its  “tech-forward” suite designs and a plethora of student-geared services and amenities, the Story of Rideau & Chapel differs from a typical rental building in that it engages young residents using events and programming aligned with the academic year, like the ‘Move IN Experience’, ‘Take a Break’ (offered during exam weeks), and the ‘Welcome Home’ event. According to Khan, these student-centric activities help foster a sense of community among the residents and enrich the experience of those far from home and living on their own, perhaps for the first time.

“We tailor our communication specifically to students,” Khan said. “Examples include a partnership with popular local influencers to showcase their authentic experiences living in Hazelview Properties’ student housing on TikTok and Instagram. Through innovative digital campaigns including vlogs, ad campaigns, social media takeovers, and real-life ‘moving stories’, we have highlighted the unique amenities, community engagement, neighbourhood accessibility, and the convenience of living in a Hazelview property.”

Find out more about Hazelview’s student-geared properties and philosophy at: Student Off Campus Housing | Canada | Hazelview Properties

More PBSA facts & trends 

  • Of Canada’s 155,000 current student housing beds, about 52,600 beds are located in privately-owned, off-campus student residences (PBSAs)
  • In 2022, Cushman & Wakefield tracked approximately 5,800 new beds in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia; specifically, this consisted of about 1,800 beds in university-owned residences and 4,000 beds in privately-owned residences.
  • Of the 25,700 beds currently in development for both university-owned and privately-owned student properties, roughly 7,100 beds are scheduled for completion in 2023-2024, another 10,300 in 2024-2026, and the remaining 8,300 beds are in the planning stages.
  • A common trend in recent developments is a shift towards a mix of young adult and student tenants, which allows developers to market to a larger demographic. These developments typically include a larger proportion of 1- and 2-bedroom units.
  • Student housing developments have been spurred by increasing interest from private investors, as well as provincial and federal governments working to facilitate growth in the availability of housing.
  • In 2018, the British Columbia provincial government began investing in student housing as part of Homes for BC, a 10-year housing plan that includes building 8,000 on-campus student housing beds by 2028. UBC has proposed at least 3,300 new student beds by 2034 — increasing its on-campus student housing supply from the existing 14,000 beds to over 17,000. At the start of each school year, UBC typically has a waitlist of 6,000 students for on-campus student housing.
  • The leading student accommodation markets in the world by investment volume include the United States (57%), United Kingdom (27%), Germany (4%), Netherlands (3%), and France (2%) (source: research.com)

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