Finding off-campus housing isn’t always easy


By Jessica King

When Emily Ross left home to attend school for the first time, she decided to live off-campus instead of in residence, which was more complicated than she thought.

“The first time finding a place was scary because I didn’t know what I was doing, where to look for listings, what location to look in, what questions to ask and how to do the whole process really,” said Ross, a third-year Youth and Children’s Studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

Ross chose the off-campus route because it was more affordable than living in residence and she had a friend with similar needs. Looking for a rental property as a university student can be intimidating and overwhelming, but there are resources available to help guide students through the process.

Laurier has partnered with a student rental website for more than 10 years. The company provides a reliable and credible way to find off-campus housing, and Laurier promotes the website.

Ross used Places4Students when she did her house-hunting and credited it as the reason she found a place. “I didn’t know where to start looking for a house. If I hadn’t have found that website, I wouldn’t have known how to look for houses,” said Ross.

In a 2022 study published in Cities: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning, Canadian researchers, including York University’s Luisa Sotomayor, said that student housing choices matter because they affect the student’s life and learning experiences. Using focus group data, the researchers found the housing market is becoming more expensive as more and more students try to find housing. This could make it more difficult for students to find housing, which is why some schools like Laurier are getting involved in the process.

Off-campus housing can be a secondary thought for schools due to the lack of staff and resources directed at helping the transition, said Mark Taylor, director of accounts for Places4Students. “The advantage to contracting with a company like us, where we put our focus and staff on the task to make an easier transition for students, is the school still has some control over it,” Taylor said.

Places4Students works with 180 different schools and has a lot of experience in picking out trustworthy and legitimate landlords. “We personally reach out and contact every landlord that we market to. We specifically let them know that we are working in conjunction with a school and that we’re their official platform for advertising rental properties to their students,” said Taylor.

Once a student secures a rental property, Laurier has a program called Laurier Off-Campus University Students (LOCUS) that aims to support first-year students. The program is designed to keep students involved with Laurier academically, socially and personally. They have mentors for students called OCA (Off-Campus Advisers) that answer questions students who live off-campus may have.

The program is geared towards giving students the residence experience, not helping them find housing, said Jess Calberry, who manages LOCUS. “We tend to stay away from that because one person’s experience isn’t necessarily a blanket experience of what someone could expect living in an area,” she said.

Ross didn’t have the same experience as LOCUS suggested. There wasn’t as much engagement from her OCA as she expected, but it wasn’t bad, said Ross. “LOCUS is the only reason I know people here because that’s the way you participate with the school when you live off-campus,” Ross said. 

LOCUS started seven years ago and is one of the only off-campus housing programs in Canada, said Calberry. “There’s so much emphasis on the residence program and department, so I understand that a lot of attention goes to them, but LOCUS is still here,” Calberry said.