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Home sweet home: The challenges of renting in Antigonish

A shot of St. Ninian Street, one of many streets in Antigonish that features student housing.
A shot of St. Ninian Street, one of many streets in Antigonish that features student housing. - Sam Macdonald

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - A lot of good things can be said for life in Antigonish. There isn’t much in town that isn’t within walking distance; the downtown core has a great deal to offer – and the scenery, especially as the fall arrives, and the academic year begins, is second to none.

But, as pleasant as life can be locally at this time of year, finding a place to live in Antigonish can be a load of trouble for people looking to rent.

With housing quickly getting snatched up in town, and much of the housing available for students on campus being full, students at St. F.X. can quickly find themselves scrambling to find suitable accommodations.

According to Rebecca Mesay, president of the St. F.X. Student Union for the 2018-19 academic year, finding accommodations tends to be stressful for students, since “it’s just another thing they have to take into consideration, with the cost of tuition and books. Rent is something that concerns students.”
The trend is that most students stay on campus in their first and second years of undergrad, and eventually move to off-campus accommodations in their third and fourth years.

And often, accommodations on campus fill up quickly. Cindy MacKenzie, manager of media relations with St. F.X., said the occupancy of the housing on campus this year is at 96 per cent of capacity.

Suffice to say, there is a great deal of demand for off-campus housing. This is evident in how students looking to sign a lease, sign a year in advance, usually around the months of September, October and November, with October constituting the “sweet spot” of arranging for where they’re going to live next year.

“They are signing up for leases early, and that speaks to how quick and competitive the housing market is, in terms of finding places to stay,” Mesay said. “In the house I’m staying at, we had students in for the last week and a half, looking to come and start viewing housing. It starts pretty early.”

And if students wait too long to arrange for the coming year, they risk missing out. Students who don’t arrange for something good early, end up only having more expensive apartments, and living spaces that are further way from campus available to them.

Mesay expressed concern over the amount of stress students deal with, trying to find a place to live. She alluded to instances where living rooms and dining rooms in houses have been converted into bedrooms, pushing the capacity of local housing as a troubling local trend.

“Certainly, in a small town, it’s harder to find accommodations, but we have to ensure a standard of living is offered to students. We don’t want them in homes with problems, or so completely squished that they don’t have any room in the house,” Mesay said.

Students are not the only people affected by the scarcity of rental stock in town.

Local Antigonishers looking for a place to rent often have a lot of trouble finding something that is affordable and meets their needs.

One local resident on the hunt for somewhere to rent in town, said, “it’s very difficult for someone like myself to find a place that’s a reasonable price. I don’t imagine those students can afford much either, but landlords jack up the prices anyway.
I feel sorry for the students as well, but I feel sorrier for me, as a local who’s lived here all my life – I’ve been finding it really hard to find a place.”
The resident, who wished to remain anonymous, is one of many locals who have turned to social media, checking out what is available for rent, in groups on Facebook such as ‘Antigonish Apartment/House Rental.’

Those social media groups often paint a grim picture of the rental market in Antigonish for those who don’t want to rent rooms or pay the high rates of rent for the few apartments locally available. Anecdotes from locals struggling to find a place they can afford abound.

The resident who spoke to the Casket suggested the rental market specifically caters to the needs of students, with houses split up to be rented by the room and eight-month lease terms, leaving locals marginalized.

The resident alleged landlords and landladies “renting out places that are all one-bedroom or share-bedroom apartments for $500” is a significant part of the problem, since, “I don’t want to be sharing with a young person, or sharing bathrooms.”


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