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City prepared for “unknowns” in student housing

Student housing

With student numbers set to rise in coming years, the city is making plans for there to be enough places to stay for all of them. Several student-friendly accommodations will soon begin construction in the north end of the city, near the main campuses for Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

In this series The Express digs deeper into the strengths and obstacles facing the city as it continues to grow.

Students have a lot of questions to answer when they first attend a post-secondary institution, and not only those found on their final exams.

Where are my classes? Where do I get food? How do I get around the city? Where am I going to live?

Well, the city is ensuring that as student populations at the institutions within Oshawa continue to grow, students will always be able to find the answer to that last question.

Accommodating growth

Projections included in Oshawa’s recently updated Student Accommodation Strategy show that each post-secondary institution in the city predicts moderate growth over the next five years.

Durham College projects their main campus in north Oshawa will grow from 8,822 students for the upcoming school year to more than 10,000 students by 2020. UOIT’s north campus is set to expand to nearly 9,000 students from its current 7,500, while Trent University Durham predicts its student population will nearly double by 2020 from 892 to 1,690. Lastly, UOIT’s downtown campus could see an influx of a few hundred students over the next five years.

According to Chris Haze, the manager of Durham College’s residence and conference centre, there are several housing options for students, including staying on campus. Durham has 1,360 undergrad beds and 200 townhouse style beds that are generally reserved for students in their upper years.

“There’s a lot of students that do prefer to stay on campus and stay on campus for their whole academic career, just because of the convenience,” he says. “The safety, the service, (and) the support that exists on campus.”

However, there are some students who prefer the freedom of living in their own space, Haze says, and it is these students Oshawa is looking to accommodate, mainly along the Simcoe Street North corridor.

Currently, a trio of apartment buildings – located at 1700 and 1805 Simcoe St. N. and 33 Taylorwood Rd., and stacked townhouses at 2011 Simcoe St. N. represent a large chunk of the housing available for students inside the city’s College Area Renaissance Community Improvement Plan area, representing approximately 1,156 beds.

In total, 396 dwelling units representing 1,731 beds have been constructed along the Simcoe corridor since 2010, when the College Area Renaissance CIP came into play.

In the coming years, UOIT and Trent foresee the largest demand with 22 per cent of their future full-time students requiring off-campus housing. Durham College estimates between five and seven per cent of students will require this type of housing.

Using current student enrolment projections, this means more than 3,000 students will require housing next year, with that number growing to over 3,500 by 2020.

According to Paul Ralph, Oshawa’s commissioner of development services, the city is on track to put a roof over the head of all these students.

If you build it, they will come

Or perhaps, if they come, they will build it?

The growth of student housing in Oshawa, particularly in the north end, holds a symbiotic relationship with the growth of these campuses, Ralph says.

“We always have to remember that. Whether we’re the city, the university, or the college, we may think there’s demand or not demand, but at the end of the day, the developer who’s building student-proposed housing has to do their due diligence from a business plan perspective to determine whether they think the demand is going to be there,” he says.

Development numbers suggest the demand is there.

Currently, stacked townhouses at 2015-2019 Simcoe St. N. and an apartment at 1569 Simcoe St. N. are under construction, and will create another 575 beds once completed.

Along with that, projects proposed for 1909, 2021-2023 and 1645 Simcoe St. N. and townhouses on the northwest corner of Britannia and Simcoe are all in the site plan approval process.

Once completed, these projects could represent another 1,351 to 1,694 beds, meaning Oshawa’s total bed count in the College Area CIP could reach between 3,544 and 3,887 beds when all is said and done.

As part of the College Area CIP, the city offers incentives such as increased assessment grants and development charge exemptions to encourage builders to develop in the area.

Since 2010, the city has exempted $1.28 million in development charges for developers and exempt taxes are expected to be $3.48 million for current developments.

Ralph says these incentives are the foundation of attracting developers to the area.

“It’s one of those things where you have to have the fundamental building blocks in place, like the zoning and incentives, so that they’re their to take advantage of those times when demand is there and the increased enrolment is there,” he says.

Prepping for the unknowns

Along with the housing options listed above, which would put Oshawa in a tight race to keep up with enrolment projections, there are also other smaller buildings that provide options for students and are still within Oshawa’s Residential Rental Housing area.

These include a 20-unit, 85-bed purpose built student apartment at 71 Emma St., a 25-unit, 47-bed apartment building currently in the site plan approval process for 710 King St. W. in the Trent University Durham area, and another 256 licensed single detached dwellings near the Durham/UOIT north campus representing another 968 beds.

While these options, along with housing outside of Oshawa’s Simcoe Street North corridor and rental housing area, should be more than sufficient to support a future influx of students, there are still unknowns when it comes to the growth of post-secondary institutions.

Most recently, the federal government provided a boost to UOIT’s plans for the $100-million Centre for Advanced Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE), by handing over $26.9 million to go toward the project.

Expansions such as these are always avenues for a campus to grow physically and in student population, and it is these events Oshawa needs to be prepared for.

“That wasn’t even on our radar when we did the update,” Ralph says of the recent report. “

For this reason, Ralph says it is good city council opted to continue offering the incentives and grants under the College Area CIP, something which was on the chopping block to be phased out in the coming years.

“That’s why council put in place to continue those incentives to take care of the unknown in the event the (institutions) got new funding for new buildings they weren’t aware of at the time,” Ralph says.

Along with CARIE, Oshawa’s post-secondary institutions have also teamed up on a proposal that could see a new $237-million health and community studies facility.

The proposal is still being considered by the province under their umbrella Major Capacity Expansion Framework, but if approved, the building could be opened by 2023/2024, and see a large influx of students.

For this reason, Ralph says the city needs to continue to offer incentives for developers.

“The projections are just projections, no one knows what funding you’re going to get from a provincial or federal government for new buildings and those new buildings mean more students,” he says.

However, for Chris Haze at Durham College, he says there is no concern for the future of student housing in the area.

“At this point, there is no concern for availability of beds,” he says. “We’re very confident that all students who require housing will be able to have housing.”