Consulting group looking into student housing demand

As development around campus picks up, TRU wants to know what renters are looking for

A bird's eye view of the TRU Residence and Conference Center. (TRU Flickr)

A bird’s eye view of the TRU Residence and Conference Center. (TRU Flickr)

TRU has hired a consulting company to look at student housing demand and availability at the university.

At the beginning of November, The Omega reported that there would be no new student housing included in the initial developments of The Reach, TRU’s retail/residential neighbourhood development on campus.

Now, TRU has launched an initiative to look at market demand for student housing as it continues to plan development of The Reach. Matt Milovick, vice-president of administration and finance, said there are no designs for a new residence, and that this report is being employed to understand student needs.

“What we do know is that our residences are basically full, within about ten rooms every single year… so for us, there has never been a real urgency to consider building anything because we have never seen that pressure in our own buildings,” Milovick said.

The Toronto-based consulting company Scion Group LLC specializes in assessing student housing needs at post-secondary institutions throughout North America, though most of their work is in the United States, according to a profile of projects on their website.

The report submitted by Scion Group will be available to the public and developers bidding on The Reach, TRU’s on-campus residential housing development.

The consulting group was on campus last week from Monday to Wednesday holding focus group meetings with students living on campus in both McGill Housing and the Residence & Conference Centre (RCC). According to Fatima Baqir, project manager of advisory services for the Scion Group, some trends are already evident.

Baqir said it seems to be that students who can afford to live on campus at either McGill or RCC seem to like it and are satisfied. However, they did note a significant difference in pricing between residences and see that as a potential barrier in the future.

The number of international students at TRU also plays a large part in the demand for housing, Baqir said. She says more than 20 per cent of the students at TRU are international students, which means there will always be a need for housing on or off-campus, preferably affordable and close to the university.

When developing the report the Scion Group makes sure to assess what the housing market off-campus is like as well, to get a grasp of what students rental habits are if they do prefer to live off-campus or not, since that will play a large role in determining the need for housing.

“It’s important always to get a sense of what’s happening on-campus, but we understand how much the competition off-campus makes such a big impact on the potential and the demand for housing on-campus as well,” Baqir said.

The consultants will also consider other developments happening near campus, including the one just approved by the City of Kamloops across from McGill Housing.

A focus group organized by TRUSU was held on Nov. 30 with the Scion Group, after TRUSU had heard at the last minute that the company would be conducting research to assess housing, according to TRUSU university governance coordinator Alex McLellan.

The focus group was made up of students that lived off-campus, and the questions revealed the larger issues students face when deciding whether to live on campus in student residences or pay standalone rent and sign into rental agreements off campus.

One student in the group expressed frustration with the application process for student housing, saying that students that are put on waitlists before the semester starts often become too stressed about whether or not they will have a place once school begins, so they remove themselves from the list and find housing off campus.

Another sentiment being expressed was that off-campus housing afforded a freedom that some students are willing to pay for. Not being able to have family or friends over at any time and having to pay for an entire semester upfront were among the most common complaints.