The Best Cities in Canada To Invest In Student Housing - Province by Province

Monday, December 28, 2015

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It’s a widely known fact that many Canadian cities suffer from a shortage of off-campus and purpose-built student housing. There are a handful of Canadian cities that have capitalized upon the demand for student housing, but there is still a great deal of need for more student housing across the country.


Here’s a look at each of the provinces, with the leading cities needing student housing highlighted, based upon a variety of criteria. The criteria includes: student enrolment and projected growth, rental rates, availability of on-campus housing, vacancy rates, number of academic institutions and more.


Ontario – Guelph:


Without question, Ontario is the most developed province in terms of student housing. Ontario is home to approximately 40 universities (both publicly and privately funded) and over 25 colleges. Choosing a top city for student housing in Ontario is difficult, as there are many profitable markets for student housing investments.

At one point in time, Waterloo was the champion; however, it has been contended that Waterloo has become overbuilt with student housing since then. Henry Morton, President of Campus Suites, claims that there is a trio of southern Ontario markets that are being overbuilt: Waterloo, London and Oshawa. These three cities previously were in contention for the top Ontario city for student housing, but in recent years have become less attractive markets. These three cities still do have a great deal of investment potential, but the competition has heated up dramatically, making it less appealing to investors.  

In November 2014, Rock Advisors indicated that there were over 9,000 student housing beds within walking distance to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier, and only 9,000 more privately-built student housing beds exist around the other 80+ academic institutions in Canada. This is why it appears that Waterloo has been dethroned and a new champion has been crowned. That champion is Guelph.  


At this time, Guelph takes the lead in Ontario for a few reasons. The University of Guelph has showed tremendous growth and has demonstrated remarkable developments over the past few years. The university’s enrollment shows no sign of letting up; increased enrollment means a larger pool of student tenants. Furthermore, the enrollment rates are far outpacing the amount of on-campus housing that is available at the university.

Alan Mason from TrilliumWest shared three other reasons why Guelph is a lucrative student housing market:


1.    Low vacancy rates coupled with limited housing options for students.
       As of the spring 2014, Guelph had the second lowest vacancy rate in all of Ontario, sitting at 1.7%.

2.    Increased student enrolment and a sustainable and diverse University. 

3.    A constantly improving market with relatively low purchase prices.
       The term “relatively” is used in the context of similar student oriented housing areas in the province.


Alan raises many good points and goes on to elaborate that while the Guelph market is in a process of transformation in which competition is heating up, the city still remains a great place to invest with plenty of potential for student housing.


Quebec – Montreal:

While Quebec has colleges and universities in several cities spread across the province, the only two major cities in contention were Quebec City and Montreal.

Montreal easily won this one, as it is by far the biggest supplier of rental housing in the province. Montreal is home to approximately two-thirds of the rental housing stock in Quebec and it’s held a relatively stable vacancy rate, sitting at around 2.7% (Spring 2014).


Montreal has several academic institutions, including Concordia University, McGill University, École de Technologie Supérieure, École Polytechnique de Montréal, HEC Montréal, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, along with over a dozen colleges. The universities alone have a student population of around 200,000+, which doesn’t take into account the number of college students. Needless to say, Montreal has an incredibly large body of students, meaning there is a gigantic pool of potential student tenants.


The vast majority of universities and colleges in Montreal have a limited availability of on-campus housing. Considering the sheer numbers of students at some of these academic institutions, it’s virtually impossible to provide on-campus housing for a significant percentage of them. For example, Concordia University by itself has over 45,000+ students, but only has three residences: Grey Nuns, Hingston Hall and Jesuit Residence. When combined, these three residences only house just shy of 1,000 students. As another example, McGill University, boasting a student body exceeding 40,000 students, houses only just over 3,000 students. These institutions that have such high enrollment simply don’t have the facilities to accommodate the bulk of their students with on-campus housing which in turn creates a greater demand for off-campus housing.


Nova  Scotia – Halifax:

While Nova Scotia is home to over 10 colleges and universities in different cities across the province, Halifax easily takes the lead on this one. Halifax is home to six universities: Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University, NSCAD University, Saint Mary’s University, University of King’s College and the Atlantic School of Theology. In addition, Nova Scotia Community College also has a campus in Halifax. That being said, there is a fairly significant body of students within the city.


In total, Halifax is home to over 32,000+ students and this number is continuously increasing. Dalhousie University alone has a student enrollment exceeding 18,000. While Dalhousie has just over 2,500 on-campus beds, the bulk of students live off-campus. Other academic institutions in Halifax have limited amounts of on-campus housing, or in some cases, none at all.


Another factor that makes Halifax a favorable city for student housing investment is moderately high rental rates for accommodations nearby the universities. In 2012, the CMCH Rental Market Report indicated that on average, a one bedroom apartment rented for approximately $945/month in Halifax Peninsula South (the location nearest to Dalhousie). This value has continued to increase over the past few years and is now above $1,000+/month.


Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown:


Charlottetown wins this one by default, since it’s the only city in P.E.I that has a major university or college (University of Prince Edward Island). In addition, it is home to a few smaller colleges, including Holland College and the Maritime Christina College.

P.E.I is fairly small, so the investment opportunities are limited within this province; however, one good thing is that there isn’t an abundance of on-campus housing, or off-campus housing for that matter.  UPEI can only accommodate 440 students on campus, according to it’s residence website.


Charlottetown also boasts moderately higher average rental rates in comparison to the provincial average. It is worth noting that vacancy rates are fairly high in Charlottetown though, sitting at around 8.7% in 2014.

Newfoundland – St. John’s: 

Similar to Charlottetown in P.E.I., St. John’s takes the number one spot by default in Newfoundland. St. John’s is home to the only university in the province, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Memorial does have a smaller secondary campus in Corner Brook, but it is quite small in comparison to the main campus. Memorial University was formerly the largest university in Atlantic Canada, but it appears that Dalhousie University’s enrollment has outpaced Memorial.

Similar to other Atlantic Canadian universities, Memorial has a limited amount of on-campus housing. Numbers from Memorial’s residence website indicate the academic institution can house approximately 2,000 students. Furthermore, there is virtually no purpose-built off-campus student housing surrounding the university.


St. John’s also boasts the highest average rents in the province and rents have increased by 2.5%.


Saskatchewan – Saskatoon:


When it comes to Saskatchewan, there are really only two options: Regina or Saskatoon. Saskatoon takes the win for this province, largely in part due to the fact that there is a larger student body. The University of Saskatchewan has nearly double the amount of students than the University of Regina has.


The University of Saskatchewan, which is located in Saskatoon, is the largest in the province, as over 21,000 students attend the university. The university can accommodate approximately 1,500 students in its residence halls. Furthermore, in Saskatoon there isn’t much in the way of purpose-built student housing.

Saskatoon is also reasonably affordable for student tenants, as a single room rents on average for around $600/month, based on what can be found on the University of Saskatchewan’s Off-Campus Housing Service. A single bedroom/bachelor apartment appears to rent for around $900 - $1,000+/month.


Saskatoon has also seen rents increase 4.4% from 2013 to 2014. Saskatoon boasted average rental rates slightly higher than Regina as well.

Manitoba - Winnipeg:


Similar to Saskatchewan, there were really only two cities in contention: Brandon and Winnipeg. Winnipeg takes the win in this province.


Winnipeg is home to five accredited universities of varying size: Booth University College, Canadian Mennonite University, The University of Manitoba, The University of Winnipeg and Universite de Saint-Boniface. Furthermore, Winnipeg is home to Red River College & Robertson College.

Winnipeg has considerably low vacancy rates sitting at 2% in spring of 2014. Winnipeg also has the highest rents in Manitoba.


Alberta - Calgary:


This one was close but ultimately Calgary took the win, largely due to the fact of an extreme shortage of student housing. Without a doubt, in Calgary there is a major demand for student housing, but the rental market is so competitive for tenants that students often have a great deal of difficulty finding affordable accommodations.

Within Calgary, there is a variety of post-secondary institutions: The University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Bow Valley College, SAIT, Ambrose University and Olds College. The student population is quite high within Calgary; the University of Calgary alone has over 31,000 registered students and SAIT has 17,000+ full-time students and over 28,000 part-time students.

Calgary has particularly low vacancy rates sitting at 1.4% in fall of 2014, which is up from 1% vacancy rates the previous year. Rental rates in Calgary are also exponentially high, in comparison to other major metropolitan cities in the provinces. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Calgary was $1,322/month.


British Columbia - Vancouver:


Vancouver is not only the most populated region in British Columbia, but it’s also home to eight universities, including Capilano University, Emily Carr University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, New York Institute of Technology, Trinity Western University, Simon Fraser University and The University of British Columbia. The University of British Columbia is the largest academic institution in the province, with an enrolment exceeding 45,484 students.

While some universities in British Columbia have a greater availability of on-campus housing, there still exists a high demand for off-campus housing. The University of British Columbia, for example, has 10,041 on-campus beds; a particularly high number when compared with other academic institutions across the country. Simon Fraser University, on the other hand, only has about 1,600 on-campus beds.

Vancouver has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the province, sitting at 1.8%, and also some of the highest rental rates in the province. The average rental rate for a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver was $1,039/month in spring 2014.

* Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut were not included, due to the fact there are no formally recognized public or private universities in these provinces. 

The Team