When we talk about the housing crisis, we usually tend towards what it looks like in numbers. Vacancy rates, waiting lists for affordable housing, average house prices, or the amount of individual income spent each month on housing.
We continue to ignore much of the conversation at the local level. What exactly is causing this problem to begin with?
We can certainly watch stagnant wages that have not kept pace with inflation and as the average cost of renting or buying a home has continued to soar. While it’s an easy target to blame, the cost of living issues aren’t quite as easy to fix.
Then there’s the bureaucracy that developers face that hampers our ability to grow. This often happens when projects need to be scaled down, losing potential units.
Recently, it was reported that around 110 short-term rental properties were made available on websites like Airbnb. The idea is that these short-term rentals take potential permanent homes off the market that could otherwise be used to help ease our housing crisis.
This begs the question: how well could our housing crisis be solved if Trent University or Fleming College were equipped to provide a sufficient number of affordable student residences on campus?
Our two post-secondary institutions, whose student numbers continue to grow year after year, are an important engine of growth in Peterborough. This growth is straining our entire system.
Over 80% of Trent students enrolled at the Symons campus come from outside our region. This represents hundreds more people who need a regional doctor, public transport services and housing each year. Trent only directly provides accommodation for approximately 1,800 students in 10 residence halls.
In the 2015-2016 academic year, Trent University had 6,607 undergraduate students attending the Symons campus in Peterborough. The following year, Trent saw an additional 475 undergraduates, representing a 7.1% increase with a total of 7,082 undergraduates.
Moving forward into the current 2021-22 academic year, the number of undergraduate students at Peterborough has soared to 9,460. This represents 2,853 more students, excluding graduate students, over a period of 7 years since the 2015-2016 school year, which represents an increase of 43%.
In comparison, between the 2011 census and the 2016 census, the overall population of the census metropolitan area of Peterborough increased by only 2.3%.
Although the pandemic has hampered recent growth, enrollment at Trent has continued to grow at a steady rate over the years. It would be safe to suggest that the growth of Trent University exceeded that of the city itself.
There is no indication that this rate of growth will slow over the next decade, especially since more than 60% of Trent’s operating revenue is generated from listings.
Trent recognized the role the university plays and the impact it has in Peterborough. While we can laud the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity that Trent generates directly and indirectly within our local economy, there are still mounting challenges within our community.
That’s why Trent formed a housing services team in 2017 to develop a housing strategy for students going forward. The result of this multi-year assessment and planning phase is a ten-year plan to create an additional 700 beds by the end of 2028.
Given Trent’s history of growth, I certainly don’t see 700 beds offering much benefit. By 2028, if enrollment continues to grow at historic rates and beyond the growth our city can handle, there could be between 1,200 and 2,400 more students in Trent by 2028.
The real housing problem in Peterborough comes down to poor growth management at all levels.
Peterborough is growing and changing, whether we like it or not, and without proper planning in place, the housing crisis will rage.