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September 27, 2001 Cheap housing for students in Montreal is becoming a myth



Adam Lambert gets settled in his new digs.

Adam Lambert gets settled in his new digs.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Lisa Harding and Amanda Taccone

Lack of housing in Montreal made headlines this summer, and many students were among those left scrambling.

Most new students start with Concordia’s student residence, Hingston Hall, on the Loyola Campus. However, with over 600 applicants for only 144 beds, the odds of their search ending here are slim.

Coordinator of Residence Life Jeff Peters has been on the scene for over eight years and said the typical calls he receives are from desperate parents who say, “I need my son or daughter in here,” and students saying, “I can’t find anywhere else to live.”

Peters recognizes that international students are at the greatest disadvantage. “Of all the people, I feel most for them. They must feel isolated.”

In answer to this need, the International Students Office and Concordia International Students Association have taken steps to help new students, through a workshop that brings students together with student volunteers to look for housing.

Pat Hardt, assistant coordinator of the ISO, said this teaming-up strategy has worked. “Last year, they would come in panicking after each try and each failure, now they’re not getting as discouraged.”

Another option is the Concordia Student Union Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank. The office acts as a free resource centre, assisting hundreds of Concordia’s approximately 27,000 students and faculty with job and housing queries.

The coordinator of the CSU Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank, Wendy Crolla, said she gets about 60 inquiries a day at this peak time. For her, the so-called housing crisis is not new. “Last year was pretty bad; this year is worse. The gap is getting smaller and smaller between the number of listings versus the number of students looking.”

Crolla said that if students start early, move quickly, are flexible and are willing to share, there are a lot more possibilities. “Persistence is so key. You can’t approach it in a casual manner.”

However, many available apartments are not accessible to students. “They can’t afford to live there, eat and pay tuition at the same time.”

This was the experience of 20-year-old Adam Lambert, a second-year history student from Ottawa. “There is a myth out there that Montreal is the easiest city to find a place to live in all of Canada, and cheap,” he said.

In June he began looking for a place for under $300 close to Loyola. Of the 50 places he called, he saw 10, and none were suitable. He eventually found his apartment with the help of six or seven people, one of whom saw an à louer sign in a window. He found many places for over $400, and said “it would have been easier if I was willing to pay a lot more.”

First-year students generally try to live downtown, although many seasoned students want the Plateau, if they can find something affordable. Others prefer Notre Dame de Grâce, St. Henri, Côte des Neiges, Little Burgundy, Verdun and then further outside of the city.

Shelley Pretli, an urban studies student, has always wanted to live on the Plateau, but believes you need to have a connection. “Everybody I know who found an apartment got it through knowing somebody who lived there before.” This year she took over her brother’s lease in a six-and-a-half, and splits the reasonable $710 rent with two other roommates.

“Landlords can do whatever they want, because people do not have any other options.” She knows of apartments less than a block away from hers where tenants are paying $1,300 for five and a half rooms.

Nadia Drapeau spent two years in residence and wanted to stay in NDG. She found the $625 four-and-a-half she shares with her sister quickly. “I think that I was very lucky because I had a contact and called the landlord before the sign went up. I think that a lot of students start late — some are still looking now.”

Jeff Peters, of the residence, cited a recent horror story: “We had a kid last year who slept in his car for a month and a half because he had nowhere to live.”

Need help finding housing? Try the CSU Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank, 848-7476 or http://alcor.concordia.ca/~housjob/. If you’re an international student, the ISO can help you, at 848-3943. Another useful site is http://www.u-swap.com/.