Students consider homelessness as the fall semester begins.


Rising demand has forced the University of Calgary to end its housing guarantee for second-year students.

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About a week ago, Suman Mohammadian was scrolling through rental listings in Calgary when the thought finally sunk in — he was on the brink of homelessness.

Mohammadian, a cellular, molecular and microbial biology student in his second year at the University of Calgary, realized shared rents in the $600 range were common in the city’s rental market not long ago. , had suddenly disappeared.

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It now cost more than $900 at similar places, a price out of his reach — assuming he wasn’t already taken by other possibilities. For which he could barely pay, he demanded three months’ rent deposit.

Mohammadian, 20, also found himself responsible for his own tuition – about $20,000 a year – after his father recently lost his job in Iran. By summer, she had drained all of her savings from working as a sales associate at Hudson’s Bay into her latest tuition payment.

To save money, he stopped eating and drinking, limiting his meals to every two days. Stress robbed him of sleep. He couch-surfed with friends in Calgary and Montreal that summer, hoping to land somewhere cheaper. But he couldn’t do it.

Mohammedan is not alone. Her story speaks to a reality many post-secondary students in Calgary face as they enter the fall semester.

Record low vacancies have now pushed the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Calgary to $1,736, pushing low-income people out of the housing market, according to RentFaster. Another report says that rents in Calgary are rising faster than any other major Canadian city.

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A study by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows that Calgary’s lowest-income people can actually afford Only five percent of the houses in the city.

The issue has become an emotional one for those on the front lines.

Mateusz Salmassi, vice president of the U of C students’ union, is exhausted. When he speaks, he pauses mid-sentence, exhausted from countless interviews this week, trying to gather his thoughts.

He spends three-quarters of his working hours dealing with student accommodation problems. He and his team concern two or three new students in the field every day. But more than exhaustion, he feels anger.

“I’m constantly in shock, my heart feels heavy,” Salmasi said, choking up. “Students are considering sleeping in a place that might not be safe just because they have no other choice.”

Matthew Salmassi
Matthews Salmasi, VP External of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, addresses a rally on March 27, 2023. Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Post media

The other day, he heard about 20 students living in a house with one kitchen and two bathrooms. Some are still living in cars. All of them are in what he calls “crisis mode.”

Student housing administrators are also feeling the pressure.

Shane Royal, senior director of ancillary services at the U of C, which manages the university’s student housing, said his department has been overwhelmed with more than 5,000 applications — a 37 percent increase since the pandemic. – when it only has room for 3,000 residents, about half. Of which was reserved for first and second year students.

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Rising demand has forced the university to strip second-year students of their housing guarantee from this year, forcing them into the city’s rental market.

As of last Friday, the student housing wait had shrunk from 740 just a month ago to 121 when those on the list, when asked, said they had given up hope and found accommodation elsewhere. The wait for Mount Royal University and SAIT is 67 and 130 respectively.

Brian Miller, a professor of urban studies at the University of Calgary, said the problem dates back to the 1980s, when the federal government cut funding for non-market housing instead of offloading the responsibility to the provinces, which ultimately tackled the problem. Abandoned the cities for .

Non-market units now make up just 3.5 percent of the city’s housing supply, said Miller, who now voices concern on behalf of his students.

As a result, private developers don’t have to compete with providers offering low rents, as long as they enjoy high demand – migration in and out of Alberta allows them to raise rates. Available. Combined with low housing supply, the problem has escalated into a crisis.

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For Miller, more non-market housing is an important solution. But for Alberta NDP housing critic Janice Irwin, they will take time to build and students can’t wait that long. Instead, she recommends an all-party committee study more immediate options, including a rent cap for students.

There are things that student residences can do as well. For example, the U of C introduced emergency housing arrangements last year, which provide housing for people like Muhammadian who are in dire need of asylum. The university partners with hotels, giving students a week to find alternative accommodation.

Royal said the U of C is consulting with a third-party organization about its housing needs and estimates, a process that could eventually lead to more housing units for students. But it will also take years to build. People like Salmasi call for more urgency from organizations to fill the gap created by the lack of housing supply.

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Salmassi is also considering a council meeting in September to discuss recommendations from the Housing Affordability Task Force, some of which include building more non-market housing and allowing neighborhood density.

Salmasi said the city needs to take meaningful action to get people out of the crisis that has now become part of their daily lives.

The stress of immense living and lack of food deteriorated the mental health of the Muhammadans. He thought about being displaced, but did not return to Iran – a country dealing with its own problems – where he fought hard to escape.

The 20-year-old said, “I thought I would have to kill myself rather than go there.

But when Muhammadin thought homelessness was going to be his reality, he found temporary housing thanks to the U of C’s emergency housing program, and was offered a room at the university’s student residence hall Tuesday morning. has been.

“At least now I can live somewhere,” he said.

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