By the time Stephanie Bonnett finished her first in-person semester at Mohawk College, her hair was falling out, her skin was covered in bug bites and she had spent over $6,000 on transportation, food and motel rooms.
Bonnett is one of many students who were unable to find housing in Hamilton in time for the Fall semester, when she was required to attend in-person classes. As a result, she endured long and costly commutes from Bruce County to Hamilton where she stayed at a motel four days a week. In October she became the victim of a rental scam that cost her $1,600. She was left with no choice but to stay in a motel, surviving on microwaved dinners and takeout.
“I couldn’t afford residence, so I had to look off-campus,” she said. “But I couldn’t find an apartment because I didn’t have a job. And I couldn’t find a job in Hamilton because I don’t live there. By the time November rolled around I had lost so much money to driving and the motel, I had no money to continue searching. It became a vicious cycle that completely destroyed my mental and physical health.”
The 25-year-old Journalism student says Mohawk College offered some support, but ultimately there was nothing they could do for her.
The scope of the student housing problem in Hamilton remains undocumented. But skyrocketing rent prices, constant changes in program delivery and COVID-19 lockdowns have created a unique set of challenges for students looking for housing in the city. With many student residences operating at half-capacity, and limited options for affordable off-campus housing, students are spending more on housing than ever before.
Since 2014, rent prices in Hamilton have increased by 38 per cent. In addition to inflated rent prices, the cost of food, hygiene products and other essential items has also increased.
Job opportunities during the pandemic have also been scarce and unreliable. Many students work part-time around their class schedules in restaurants or retail settings, which left many laid off or entirely out of a job during COVID-19 lockdowns. Lack of reliable employment presents a significant barrier for those seeking housing within the city, as rental applications often require proof of employment.
Those who were able to find housing and bear the weight of increased rent costs now face another challenge: most classes still aren’t on campus. As the COVID-19 situation changes and evolves, so do the plans for in-person learning. With rapid changes to program delivery becoming the norm, students are left with little time to decide whether or not renewing their lease is worth it.
Kaytlan Charbonneau says she moved nine hours away from home to Hamilton after enrolling at Mohawk College in the hopes that classes would be in-person. Two years later, she’s still waiting and trapped in a lease that’s costing her $1,400 per month.
“I’ve always been on edge about whether or not I’m supposed to be going back home to save money or whether I should stay because classes could be in person again,” Charbonneau said. “It’s really disappointing to be hoping and hoping, and then all of a sudden hearing classes will be online again. Because by then you’re stuck in another lease and it’s just the same problem all over again.”
Bonnett says she wants other students to know they’re not alone in their search for affordable housing, and hopes colleges and universities will be more understanding to students who are struggling to meet their basic needs during their study periods. While Mohawk College and McMaster University offer financial, academic and housing-related resources to their students, Bonnett says it’s often not enough to solve the type of problems she continues to be faced with.
For more information on student housing at Mohawk College, visit the Mohawk College website.