Toronto universities team up for affordable student housing project

U of T, York, Ryerson, OCAD U research teams to build off earlier transport project
Project builds on StudentMoveTO, which addressed transportation issues. DELPHINE JI/THE VARSITY
Project builds on StudentMoveTO, which addressed transportation issues. DELPHINE JI/THE VARSITY

Toronto’s four universities will work together on an upcoming joint research project named StudentDwellTO that will study affordable housing for post-secondary students in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The initiative builds off an earlier inter-institution collaboration on transportation and student transit.

StudentDwellTO will involve about 100 faculty and student researchers from the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University, and OCAD University, who will work together for the next 18 months and will partner with several public and private sector actors.

Those involved will be looking at existing data and trying to compile new information to address the existing housing affordability issue that many students face, and will draw from a variety of fields, such as urban studies, geography, psychology, environmental studies, and engineering. They will also be looking at other examples across the world to help in their study.

Professor Shauna Brail, Director of the Urban Studies Program at Innis College and Presidential Advisor on Urban Engagement at U of T, told The Varsity that “students in Toronto are challenged by fixed and low incomes and high and rising rents; by tradeoffs that they are often forced to make between proximity to school and housing affordability.”

Brail says that this impacts students both in their time spent commuting and in their campus engagement. This can cause students “to make choices for reasons of affordability that can have negative impacts on their health, well-being and safety.”

The project is led by the presidents of the four participating universities, and also involves a steering committee composed of representatives of the institutions designed to serve as a link between the leads and the research teams themselves.

Brail serves as U of T’s delegate to the steering committee. Within the research teams is a core group from each institution composed of one or two faculty professors and two university students.

The venture has raised over $70,000 in cash for the overall budget, up from the initial $40,000. It has also received $5,000 in in-kind contributions, and expects to raise even more funds as they leverage the existing commitments for outside donors.

The initiative builds off StudentMoveTO, an earlier collaboration between the four universities to study the needs, trends, and behaviour of post-secondary students in the GTA with regards to transportation and public transit. StudentDwellTO is the second research project to involve these institutions, and is part of a broader push for the universities to collaborate on urban and city-wide issues, with many more projects to come.

“This initiative is about developing a deep understanding of the impacts of a lack of affordable housing on university students, and importantly, it’s also about bringing people and ideas together to develop solutions,” Brail said. “Along the way, the project has already accomplished the goal of introducing lead and emerging housing researchers from across a wide spectrum of disciplines.”

Studio courses, focus groups, community events, research partnerships, and other activities are among the ways Brail hopes StudentDwellTO can provide meaningful and inspiring engagement opportunities for students, faculty, and community members.  “The potential to influence policy and public discourse in Toronto, particularly as it relates to identifying solutions, is also a hoped-for output,” she said.

“Student housing is directly connected to the lack of affordable housing for many communities,” Professor Min Sook Lee of OCAD U said in a press release. “We don’t just need research on student housing, we need to mobilize it.”

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