Graduate students with families struggle with finding suitable, affordable housing in Montreal
The lack of affordable housing near Concordia University’s two campuses disproportionally affects graduate students who have families. Rents increase exponentially each year, particularly as developers renovate and convert apartment complexes into high-end luxury condos and apartments.
An article in CBC News shows that, despite the increase in availability of rental apartments in the central part of Montreal in 2020, the average rent went up to $891, 4.2 per cent higher than in 2019. Graduate student families are affected because they cannot share residences, which help other students cut down on rent and other costs. The rising cost of rent in and near downtown has made it very difficult for student families to live there. They end up having to move farther away, thus adding commute time and other considerations.
In addition, most graduate student families, particularly those that are international students, are single-income households or living on financial aid and scholarships. Most international students’ spouses accompany them on a visitor permit or have to wait for work authorizations. Finding jobs is also a difficult task due to the language barrier and lack of access to employment networks and support that are provided to citizens and permanent residents.
Concordia needs to seriously consider providing options for students with families, particularly graduate students, as they are often here for the long-term. While undergraduate housing is available through Grey Nuns and other on-campus residences, there are no such options for graduate students.
Graduate family housing at universities such as the University of Toronto has been very advantageous. These provide opportunities for socialization; particularly important when arriving from a foreign country, for both students and their families. It helps build a social network wherein these families, who understand each other’s challenges, can share helpful advice to navigate everything from university life to healthcare and education for children.
Many newly-arrived graduate student families also lack the required credit checks to get many apartments and thus find themselves in apartments that may not be suitable. International students with families also often end up spending a large amount of money to rent short-term or live in Airbnbs before finding a suitable apartment, as it’s nearly impossible to rent an apartment before being physically present in the city.
Michelle LaSalle, a Concordia Fine Arts Masters student, struggled finding an apartment with a young child, when her son was just three months old. Most families, like LaSalle’s, have a hard time finding landlords who are willing to rent apartments to families with small children, due to noise and other issues, which is also not legally allowed under Quebec’s housing laws. The process of finding an apartment with children is extremely stressful, a point to which this author can also attest to. The process is not only competitive but also involves so much emotional labor with having to convince potential landlords to rent to a family.
I, myself, was declined from even viewing several potential apartments when I mentioned I had children.
Family housing also helps spouses and children who may be isolated to connect with similar families, and can also help facilitate child-care when needed. As both the Concordia subsidized daycares and the Concordia Student Union daycare are located within the university campuses, it helps parents to be located near the daycares. In addition, schools and daycares have very fixed pick-up schedules and require parents to be able to drop anything they are doing to pick up their child in case of an emergency, which necessitates a short commute.
Lindsay Pereira, a senior undergraduate student at Concordia, set to start her Masters in English this fall, has three children and lives in a rented 5 1/2 in LaSalle. She spoke about how the increasing rents are difficult to manage on a single income, especially after she made the decision to return to school after twenty years to complete her undergraduate studies and pursue a Masters.
Pereira says that even though she lives close to downtown, commuting on public transit used to take up so much of her time. With the pandemic and shift to online learning, it has also been more difficult to find a quiet space to study and take classes from home. She would welcome subsidized housing options, particularly near the Loyola campus, with its green, open spaces that are ideal for a family and the shuttle service that provides an easy and fast commute to the downtown campus.
Pereira ended by saying, “I am grateful that I have a suitable place, but the truth is my reality as a student with children is very different from those who do not, and it is high-time Concordia starts thinking about students with families and their needs, particularly with the financial and other effects of the pandemic.”
Feature photo by Kit Mergaert