This picture shows a small furnished room in a basement of a house in Linden Lanes. The renter currently occupying the space is moving out at the end of the month. (LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN)
This picture shows a room for rent in a housing complex along Victoria Avenue West. This room is located on the second floor in a complex shared with two other roommates. (LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN)
For out-of-town students, part of preparing for back to school is finding convenient and affordable housing.
Besides taking a tour of the three residence halls available at Brandon University, the Brandon Sun also saw six different rooms for rent in shared apartment complexes and houses, found in local print and online classifieds, posing as a BU student with a housing budget of under $500.
Heather Fast is getting ready to make a move.
Come September, she will further her music studies at Brandon University, leaving her friends, family and home behind in Winnipeg.
With only weeks left before her first day of classes, she needs to find a place to live.
After researching the three residence halls available on campus, she admits it’s not for her.
"I read all the stuff on the website and everything it’s just not my thing I don’t think," she said. "I want more space and to cook my own food is a big thing for me."
Residence halls have been available on campus since the early 1970s, but even Scott Lamont, BU's vice-president of administration and finance, admits they aren’t for everyone.
"For certain students, they’re the perfect thing, for other students who want a little more freedom, not so much."
Although they stay up-to-date with rental rates in the city, those rates can’t be directly compared to rooms in residence, Lamont said.
"It’s not a one-bedroom apartment because there isn’t a kitchen for example, there’s no living room, you can’t really cook in your room, you have to buy the board plan on top of your room, so it’s not exactly comparable in that sense, but by the same token it should be less costly than a typical apartment."
Rent in residence goes up about three per cent each year, depending on the rate of inflation, so that the university can break even, Lamont explained.
"Residence, food operations, bookstore and parking all are expected to break even. They aren’t expected to make a profit, but they do have to make enough money to make repairs … when required," he said. "It’s striking a balance between charging enough to be able to cover all of the costs including the repair costs that will be required from time to time and trying to come up with a rate that is reasonable relative to what the market is in the city of Brandon."
Lamont said it would be difficult to find a newer one-bedroom apartment under $600 or $700 a month in the city right now.
"A two-bedroom is probably going to be in the range of around $1,000 give or take, a three-bedroom is in the range of $1,200 or more, a house with four bedrooms is often $2,000 (a month)," he said. "We know that there are perhaps basement suites or apartments that have been working under rent control for some time so that may be less, but there aren’t very many of those around particularly in good condition."
But even with a housing budget of under $500 in mind, the Brandon Sun was able to find some decent and affordable rooms available for rent in both shared apartments and houses.
The Sun caught up with Fast last week as she visited her first apartment, a shared two-bedroom with another girl about her age and her cat three blocks from BU.
The unfurnished room, advertised at $348 per month, excluded optional parking for an additional $25 and required $25 a month for hydro.
If she decides to take it, Fast will be living in a room just large enough to fit a twin-sized bed and dresser. The well-maintained second bedroom is also equipped with a large window and basic-sized closet space. She’d also have full access to a shared living room, bathroom and kitchen.
"Having a room to myself is important and I like to cook for myself," she said. "It’s also close to the university and a decent size."
Another room for rent, fully furnished in a house located in the Meadows ward, was running for $450 a month, excluding Internet. Rent included access to a shared backyard and deck area, two living room spaces, a basement, kitchen and a separate toilet and shower located in the same room as the washer and dryer. The room, big enough for a bed and dresser, was also right next door to the owner of the house who claimed she wasn't home very often. The home was also shared with the renters two large dogs and cat.
Another small furnished room, in a basement of a house in Linden Lanes, was up for grabs at $400 a month. Rent included cable, Internet, laundry, a private entrance, shared kitchen and bathroom and living space. The basement would be shared with two other roommates, who were already occupying the larger rooms, while a family with two young children lived on the main floor.
One of the cheaper options is an unfurnished room in a housing complex, although quite far from campus along Victoria Avenue West, which was going for $320 a month, without the cost of Internet or hydro. The three-bedroom house, with a kitchen, bathroom, in-suite laundry and storage space, would be shared with two other roommates who were seeking a "drama-free male or female."
Located in the Downtown Hub was a room available in a two-bedroom apartment for $326 a month plus a shared Internet, cable and hydro bill. The unfurnished room was quite small and had limited closet space. Even with an additional storage shelf, the space didn't appear ideal for a student with a lot of clothes or the desire to have a desk in their room.
Although hardwood floors and tall ceilings added character to the small apartment, the bar in the middle of the kitchen, which the renter claimed was being removed, didn't make the space seem very study friendly.
While living off campus might seem like a viable option for some students, there's always the added stress that comes with finding a safe and secure place to store your belongings through a renter you can trust. But moving into residence also comes with its own level of risk despite being directly associated with an educational institution, something that former BU student Marie Berard knows all too well.
Berard found herself stuck looking for housing after she was evicted from residence when her student loans failed to come through during BU’s 45-day professor strike in 2011.
"I ended up becoming homeless and then when I did get a place, it was like $1,000 and I had to work a night job," she said.
Being a mother of two children, Berard had to rely on welfare assistance, money that she eventually had to pay back.
The labour dispute was settled before professors were ordered to vote on the university’s final contract offer, but still managed to interrupt classes that school year for 3,100 students.
Although he was unable to provide the exact number of students living in residence affected by the 2011 strike, Paul O’Driscoll, director of residence hall programs at BU, admitted it "certainly didn’t help us" when it comes to filling rooms on campus.
"There are a lot of factors that determine whether you’re going to be full or not."
No-shows also cause problems for university residences, he said.
"Every year there’s probably 15 to 20 people who just don’t show up, so that creates some other vacancies and hopefully you fill those on the basis of your late applicants."
Although a residence at full capacity makes for a better experience, O’Driscoll can see why some students choose to live off campus.
"I’m sure some of those places have their distinct advantages as well, however, the residence life advantage is you’re living with 300 people of approximately your same age and you have some commonality in that you’re all students."
While the potential to meet new people in residence is appealing, Fast is confident her program will provide her with those same opportunities.
"I’ll be in the music program, my class will be smaller, so I’m sure I’ll meet a lot of people and make friends that way."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 19, 2013