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Jaime Reid outside her home in Mississauga, Ont., Aug. 12, 2021. Reid, who will be a first-year student at the University of Guelph, is struggling to find housing for the upcoming school year.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Analu Gardiano set out to experience college life away from home when she came to Dartmouth from Brazil to study business four years ago. At the time, she could find nice, two-bedroom rentals for $1,000 a month.

Now, with her final year of studies starting this fall, she can’t find anything similar under $1,500 a month.

Students at university and college campuses outside of Canada’s large urban centres are facing a new rental landscape. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, while rents in Canada’s seven largest cities fell by 1.4 percentage points between 2019 and 2020, in the same period rents rose by 0.1 percentage points in Canada’s 29 smallest cities. Those smaller centres are frequently anchored by major educational institutions with large student populations.

For Ms. Gardiano, the high rents in Dartmouth meant she had to make the decision to stay at her more affordable place outside the city and face a commute by transit to Nova Scotia Community College that can sometimes stretch to over an hour each way.

“I am trying to figure out right now when I am going to have time to study, when I am going to have time to go to work and do all the things I have to accomplish in a day,” she said.

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Student housing in and around the University of Guelph campus.Nakshi Pandit/Nakshi Pandit

According to James McKellar, professor of real estate and infrastructure at York University, the rising rents in smaller Canadian cities is the knock-on effect of a shift in demand for rentals and homeownership from urban geographic areas to outlying areas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic kind of upset the housing market,” he said. “It led to a lot of uncertainty. People started to say, ‘Well I am not sure if I want to go back to work, and if I’m not going back into work and I’ve still got my job, I don’t mind working from Collingwood.’”

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Mr. McKellar believes this shift in demand led to more competition in smaller markets, which led to higher rent prices there.

“People say, ‘We haven’t seen housing prices go up here in a while and all of a sudden they’re going up.’ [Landlords] say, ‘Yeah, there’s high demand. Let’s put our rents up.’”

Richard Togman, chief executive officer of Rent Panda, a listings platform that helps students find housing in the Thunder Bay, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge areas, said that, for students, the situation in the markets his company operates in is even worse than what available data suggests.

“All the houses that get rented out to students – houses that would convert into duplexes or small triplexes – those are largely flying under the radar of CMHC. They are not really surveyed. So any data you see in CMHC is likely focused on apartment buildings,” he said.

“The data that we see from the listings that go through the platform and the on the ground operations in that aspect of the market show much higher increases in rents,” he said.

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Richard Togman, chief executive officer of Rent Panda, said that, for students, the situation in the markets his company operates in is even worse than what available data suggests.Nakshi Pandit/Nakshi Pandit

Jamie Reid is going to be a first-year student studying psychology at the University of Guelph and is looking to move to Guelph from Mississauga to be closer to campus.

“It is expensive,” she said. “Rent is from $650 to $750 a month, and I’m like, ‘whoa,’ If anything, I understand that for Mississauga, but Guelph is a more rural area, so I don’t know why it’s so expensive for student housing,” she said. “They do know we’re students, so I was kind of surprised on that.”

Hart Togman, Rent Panda’s chief operating officer, said in addition to dealing with rents that are close to $100 a month or more expensive this year, students are dealing with a frenzy of competition for rental spaces in the more desirable, student-oriented locales. He said this trend is especially true in Guelph.

“Decrease in supply and the sustained demand, regardless of prices, is leading to high competition,” he said.

“So students are chomping at the bit for places and having trouble in their search for a home, messaging dozens and dozens of places,” he said.

Ms. Reid has found looking for a rental this year to be tough because prospective tenants are up against multiple people bidding on the same room once a listing goes up.

“It is really competitive to find things. I was actually supposed to get a place. I was promised it. And all of a sudden they were like ‘Oh no, sorry. We’re going to give it to someone else.’ Then another girl was like ‘Oh no, we’re looking for someone older,’” she said.

Ms. Reid made the decision not to stay on campus despite being a first year, but still feels it is very important that she gets the university student experience from her off campus living arrangements.

“The fact that I am living in student housing, I’ll make friends with students in different years. There are always going to be parties, and there are always going to be fun outings. You’re always going to make friends because you’re going to meet people around campus,” she said.

“I feel like off campus you’re still doing the same things.” she said. “If anything nowadays, it’s just less rules and regulations.”

Most Canadian universities and colleges have announced plans to have more on campus activities for the fall 2021 semester after more than a year of Covid-19 lockdowns.

Ms. Reid finally found a place this month.

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