As rent prices climb in Ottawa, many students are struggling to find a compromise between living close to school and finding a unit that’s affordable. But with so many students competing for rentals, that balancing act is getting harder.

“In Ottawa, between Carleton, Algonquin, and uOttawa, there are 110,000 students,” said Steve Pomeroy, an Ottawa-based housing research consultant and advisor to the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“The more students we have coming into the city, the more pressure there is on rent, and that’s sort of pushing up the rents.”

A “for sale” sign stands before an Old Ottawa South triplex. Often, it is difficult for students to find affordable housing in the neighbourhood near Carleton University. [Photo © Isabella Sanchez]

A December 2023 report shows that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Ottawa is just more than $2,100 per month, while a two-bedroom costs just more than $2,500, numbers that have increased substantially since 2021.

Some students live on campus in their first or second year. At Carleton University, where first-year students are guaranteed a residence spot, costs range from $12,000 to $14,000 for the fall and winter academic terms. 

Many students then move off campus after their first or second year for financial reasons, more independence or wanting to be closer to work. 

Emily Ketcheson, a third-year Carleton University student, lives off campus but has struggled to find something affordable.

“I was initially hoping for something slightly cheaper than or comparable to what I was paying in residence at school,” said Ketcheson. 

“When I was looking for housing near campus, most places worked out to be about $800-1,200 per person,” she added.

Although she was able to find more affordable housing in Barrhaven, this came with tradeoffs.

“It [meant] that I was living about 20 to 25 minutes by car away from school, which was quite inconvenient,” she said.

For uOttawa and Carleton students, neighbourhoods like Sandy Hill and Old Ottawa South command higher rents because of proximity to campus.

Average Rent for 1 and 2 bed Apartments in Ottawa Neighborhoods (According to
1 bedroom 2 bedroom
Old Ottawa South $1495 $2500
The Glebe $1900 $2450
Centretown $1845 $2410

And options can be more limited for students without a car, such as Carleton student Sadia Sarker.

“The range of rent prices near Carleton University was higher than if I decided to live somewhere where I would have to take over an hour every day to commute one way to campus,” said Sarker. 

“The rent prices of places near Carleton University were around $1,000-$1,600, with places further away from campus being around $900,” she said. 

Sarker lives at the Revalie, an off-campus student housing apartment near Hog’s Back Park. She pays $1,600 in rent, which, she says, “includes the room, a monthly cleaning fee and access to amenities such as a clubhouse, a learning centre, a library, a gym and a shuttle bus to and from Carleton University every day during the week.”

Although Sarker’s commute to campus is five minutes with the shuttle bus service, she is looking for a new place closer to her workplace. 

Pierce Dunbar, a culinary management student at Algonquin, says he had to compromise and picked housing closer to work instead of campus “for the sake of keeping [my] job.”

Dunbar says price was a major factor that influenced his decision to live off-campus.

“I would love to live closer to campus," he said. "It takes me almost an hour by bus to get to Algonquin, but residence was around $12,000 to $14,000.”

“Everyone I know living off campus has to work to pay for their rent," he added. 

To accommodate an increase in student enrolment, Carleton has a new residence building under construction, which is expected to be completed by the summer of 2024. The university says the new residence will house for 450 first-year students. The University of Ottawa also has multiple student housing options near campus.

To accommodate an increase in enrolment, Carleton University is constructing a new residence building which is expected to be completed by summer 2024. [Photo © Isabella Sanchez]

Despite students facing difficulties finding affordable housing, Pomeroy believes there is a solution to this issue. 

“There is a viable market solution to building more purpose-built student housing that we should be exploring,” says Pomeroy. “If we massively increased the amount of student housing we were building, we would enable [students] to have some place to live at a moderate rent, and we would take the pressure off the local rental market where [students] are displacing other low-income folks.”