More sleep, less commuting: U of A wants students to live on campus

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More sleep, less commuting: U of A wants students to live on campus
WATCH ABOVE: The University of Alberta is trying to entice students to live on campus as the vacancy rate there has hit a record high. As Kendra Slugoski reports, in Edmonton's rental market, there's still competition. – Jan 19, 2017

The University of Alberta is trying to entice students to make the move to campus.

Billboards leading into Edmonton and throughout the city point out the long commute, and how living in residence would mean more time to sleep.

It’s a tongue-and-cheek campaign Andrew Sharman, the vice president of Facilities and Operations, hopes will catch the attention of sleepy student commuters.

READ MORE: Edmonton remains a renter’s market with vacancy rate up to 7.1% 

Right now there is a nine per cent vacancy rate in student accommodation, a number much higher than the university budgeted for.

“We would normally historically sort of max out around six,” said Sharman. “That’s what our budget was based on for this fiscal year.”

Adding more pressure, three new residence towers will be opening up over the next 18 months. A total of 904 spaces will be added to the already existing 5,000 on campus.

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Lister 5 is one of three additional residences under construction on the U of A campus. Kendra Slugoski

The economy and job losses may mean more students are choosing to live with their parents.

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Emma Hole, a first year design student said her half-hour commute means taking a bus and the LRT.

For Hole, cost outweighs convenience: living at home is free.

“It’d be nice to be closer to the library,” she said. “If it was less expensive, I would definitely consider it.”

Right now the cost of a one-bedroom residence with an eight-month lease is between $700 and $800 per month.

Come May, the cost will go up. The Board of Governors approved a 2.7 per cent rent increase effective May 1, 2017.

Sharman said there is no way around the increase because the U of A is already dipping into its reserves to pay for maintenance. He said the higher rent will help fund the newly imposed carbon tax on utilities and a higher minimum wage for cleaning staff.

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Now the U of A is considering incentives like free laundry.

“It means we’re going to have to work harder,” Sharman said. That could mean allowing short-term stays for students during exams or for other visitors.

Gabriel Dinel takes the bus from Strathcona County. He said it would be a waste not to use his U-Pass.

“I live with my mom. It’s cheaper. It’s cheaper to stay there and the bus pass is included in your school fees.”

The U of A admits the expansion of its student transportation to outlying areas may be a detriment to campus living, but he called it the “right thing to do,” in order to cut down on vehicle use.

Then there’s the competition from other rentals. Students are getting deals off-campus and they can afford to shop around.

Not far from the U of A farms and Saville Centre is a new rental complex with 110 townhomes. Edgeway, built by Westcorp along 51 Avenue and 117 opened this past November.

The two- and three-bedroom homes are modern, sleek and have already attracted students.

Lyndsay Bruno, the senior marketing coordinator with Westcorp said 30 per cent of its tenants are U of A students. The company is offering the first month free.

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“It’s not something you would typically imagine as a student living in,” said Bruno. “I think it’s really nice for students to have something brand new on the market.”

Sharman said the U of A will continue to push for more awareness about residence living. If convenience doesn’t convince students, perhaps academics will.

“We are doing some work and there was some recent research released across Canada that students perform better living in residence.”

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