Plenty of apartments near Dal still for rent

New residences luring students away from apartments, landlord says

A number of places around Coburg Road advertise rooms for rent. Photo: Elizabeth Whitten

Coburg Road should be prime real estate for students: apartments nearby are on the major bus lines with quick access to convenience stores and supermarkets. It’s also near the downtown and just cross the street is Dalhousie. Saint Mary’s University isn’t far away either.

But all along Coburg Road are a series of signs in windows advertising apartments for rooms that don’t have students living in them.

Tim Firth has been a landlord for about 10 years. He rents three homes to students and families, including one three-storey house on Coburg Road.

The rooms Firth rents to students usually fill up by the start of the semester, but “the last two years things have been changing with the students,” says Firth.

He’s noticed in the last two years that “for rent” signs have been a common sight in the south end of Halifax.

It should be an easy space to rent, but for the last two years Firth hasn’t had much luck with his property on Coburg Road.

He believes that the new Dal residence LeMarchant Place might be a reason why his rooms are empty.

Firth believes that the rental problem might also be due to the U-Pass that is mandatory as part of tuition. Living outside of the downtown core is more convenient if students have a bus pass to get to and from class.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported in 2013 that there was a 4.1 per cent vacancy rate in Halifax up from 3.0 per cent the previous year. A two-bedroom apartment cost an average $1,010 a month to rent in April.

Dal’s new residence, LeMarchant Place, might be a reason why there are so many “For Rent” signs in the area. Photo: Elizabeth Whitten

Students making choices

The majority of university students in the province live in off-campus housing. StudentsNS, an alliance of Nova Scotia post-secondary student associations, estimates there are 17,000 students renting in Halifax.

Katelyn Dyck is a Dalhousie student who has lived on Coburg Road for almost six months. Last year she lived in residence. She writes that being close to her classes was a factor in choosing a place to live.

She believes the reason there are so many signs advertising rooms for rent is because living near the university is so expensive.

Adele Gallant also moved into an apartment on Coburg Road this past September. She pays about $600 a month for a small space, but believes the location makes up for the lack of room. She agrees that the rooms closer to campus are more expensive, but it’s “worth it to me to be closer to campus.”

Coburg Road is a popular place for students to rent, but it’s pricier. Photo: Elizabeth Whitten

The bigger picture

Jonathan Williams, the executive director of StudentsNS, says, “student demand is one of the major drivers” of the cost of housing downtown.

Cities where there is a student population tend to have higher rent, “because there is that student demand for rental housing pushing up the market prices,” Williams says.

It’s still more desirable for students to live near campus. Having a bus pass doesn’t make living outside of the Halifax core more enviable, he explains. Students who live farther away from campus are missing out on connecting with the university community, as well as taking time out from their studies to commute.

As for Coburg Road apartments, Williams says “you would expect these would typically be locations that would be rented relatively quickly.”

StudentsNS supports the building of new student residences on campus, but Williams cautions they still need to be affordable.

“The point of [university-owned] student housing was that it would be more affordable. You’d be in a simple dorm room. That’s not happening, which is a problem,” Williams says.

Firth still plans to rent to some students, but won’t be relying on them. He is renovating the house on Coburg so that he can rent it to a family. The stability of having people renting the same floor for years offers some assurance a rent cheque will come in each month.