University students in Toronto face greater challenges due to unaffordable housing and long commutes


TORONTO, May 2, 2019
– University students in Toronto find housing options on their campuses, or nearby, to be limited and expensive, leaving them vulnerable to predatory landlords or feeling isolated by long commutes, preliminary findings of a joint project by the city’s four universities indicate.

The presidents of Ryerson University, OCAD University, the University of Toronto, and York University launched StudentDwellTO in 2017 to examine the housing challenges their 180,000 students were facing, and to gather data that will be used to navigate a path forward.

The StudentDwellTO research team held 26 student focus groups across Toronto on six university campuses: Ryerson University, OCAD University, York University Keele campus, and the University of Toronto’s St. George, Mississauga and Scarborough campuses. Preliminary findings were discussed today during at a panel held at York University. Representatives from all four universities were present.

Key preliminary findings from the student focus groups show that students feel there is limited space available in residence beyond their first year in university, and that residence and mandatory meal plans are not worth what they cost. When students turn away from the limited options on campus, they face one of the costliest housing markets in North America. The available shared housing options are overcrowded, often discriminate against students by asking for several months of rent upfront, and offer illegal leases in many cases, they said.

The primary cause of students’ dissatisfaction was rent, with students in the focus groups paying an average of $924 per month.

It is already clear some students chose their universities based on where their parents live, rather than their desired programs, and some with long commutes skip classes or tutorials to avoid long transit times. Students also expressed concern about having less time for extracurricular activities, contributing to feelings of isolation.

Low-income students suffer disproportionately from all of the negative repercussions of unaffordable housing, according to the research. There are also differences in the experiences at the various campuses, for example, students at downtown campuses face high housing costs and shortages, whereas York students say predatory landlords in housing near the University puts them into precarious situations.

Overall, students are asking for the following:

  • More affordable on-campus options and better maintenance of buildings;
  • New affordable housing options that include kitchen access and more common/study areas;
  • Support and guidance with finding off-campus housing and dealing with landlords; and
  • More places for downtime and studying.

Researchers from the four universities continue to gather data about where and how students live, their commutes, and the impact on their academic achievement and other experiences. The data will be analyzed more fully in the coming months, which will give universities and policy makers more detailed information to guide future planning decisions.


“The research coming out of the StudentDwellTO initiative will help ensure that our work will be guided by the best information available. It will help enable us to enhance the supply of housing that is safe, affordable and designed to maximize our students’ educational experience. At the same time, we hope that our findings will help us to create new facilities that are fully integrated into the socio-economic fabric of the neighbourhoods around us.” – Meric Gertler, President, University of Toronto

"These preliminary findings from StudentDwellTO focus groups show how incredibly valuable student feedback is in helping Ryerson identify the best housing solutions for our community. We look forward to seeing this program continue to advance in its research so that we can provide the best possible living environment for our students and they can focus on getting a quality education." – Steven N. Liss, Vice-President Research and Innovation, Ryerson University

“OCAD University students are the creators that the GTHA needs to drive its current and future economic, social and cultural well-being. Finding affordable housing for students now means that it is more likely that they will stay in the region once they graduate. Many OCAD U students currently commute long distances to attend school because housing is not affordable. OCAD U faculty are contributing to this important project with design and data visualization skills.” – Sara Diamond, President, OCAD University

“It is increasingly clear that complex social, political and economic challenges are best addressed when governments, community organizations, universities, and citizens all work together. I am excited that York is collaborating closely with all of the GTA universities to better understand the housing needs of our students. StudentDwellTO’s research will help us better serve our community and enrich the conversation around affordable and sustainable housing in Toronto and beyond.” – Rhonda L. Lenton, President and Vice-Chancellor, York University

Founded in 1827, the University of Toronto has evolved into Canada’s leading institution of learning, discovery and knowledge creation. We are proud to be one of the world’s top research-intensive universities, driven to invent and innovate. Our students have the opportunity to learn from and work with preeminent thought leaders through our multidisciplinary network of teaching and research faculty, alumni and partners. The ideas, innovations and actions of more than 560,000 graduates continue to have a positive impact on the world.

Ryerson University is Canada’s leader in innovative, career-oriented education. Urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, it is home to more than 45,300 students, including 2,600 Master’s and PhD students, 3,800 faculty and staff, and nearly 198,000 alumni worldwide.

OCAD University OCAD University ( is Canada’s university of the imagination. Founded in 1876, the university is dedicated to art, design and digital media education, practice and research and to knowledge and invention across a wide range of disciplines.

York University champions new ways of thinking that drive teaching and research excellence. Our students receive the education they need to create big ideas that make an impact on the world. Meaningful and sometimes unexpected careers result from cross-disciplinary programming, innovative course design and diverse experiential learning opportunities. York students and graduates push limits, achieve goals and find solutions to the world’s most pressing social challenges, empowered by a strong community that opens minds. York U is an internationally recognized research university – our 11 faculties and 25 research centres have partnerships with 200+ leading universities worldwide. Located in Toronto, York is the third largest university in Canada, with a strong community of 53,000 students, 7,000 faculty and administrative staff, and more than 300,000 alumni.

York U's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contacts:

York University, Janice Walls,, 416 455 4710

University of Toronto,, 416 978 0100

Ryerson University, Jessica Leach,, 416 704 2166