Student housing industry gears up for ‘negative effect’ online college courses this fall


Halifax has long been a college town, with fresh-eyed new students traveling from around the world each year to take the next step of their studies at one of the many college campuses here.

But like everything it touched, COVID-19 could disrupt that status quo in the fall, as several universities announced plans to have a fully digital semester in September.

Dalhousie’s spring / summer and fall terms will be “primarily online,” according to the school’s website, “with a few exceptions. In-person on-campus instruction this fall will only be offered in programs where there is a need to meet industry or field specific accreditation requirements.

The University of King’s College, also in Halifax, is also moving its preparatory year program to a ‘holistic’ fall semester entirely online, and halving the residential capacity (bonus: each student will have their own room, therefore no roommates).

Other Halifax universities, including Saint Mary’s, Mount St. Vincent and Nova Scotia Community College, are following suit and preparing for a “virtual college” semester.

A loss of incoming students would naturally have repercussions on the local economy in all kinds of ways, but one sector in particular that relies on a flood of young academics is that of local tenants specializing in student accommodation.

“Without them I would have a different job,” says Rob Gale, owner / operator of GradPads, which lists around 30 units in a handful of homes on the peninsula.

Gale estimates that up to 98% of its rentals are student-related.

“Your first thought is ‘no one’s going to come’,” says Gale, explaining his first response to the announcement of an all-digital semester.

“If they go to school online, there’s a good chance no one will show up.”

Matthew Moore, owner of Moore Student Living – which looks after six apartment buildings in South End Halifax – saw similar writing on the wall.

“It will definitely have a negative effect, because I think a lot of students are actually taking a year off,” said Moore, who estimates he is already looking at a 25% drop in renters this fall.

“It’s very isolating, so new graduates are likely to delay entering college. This will certainly reduce the demand for student rentals.

But while the student life market is likely to be affected, the outlook among homeowners caring for students – particularly following stretches of several weeks without new cases in the province – is that it s This is a temporary hurdle to overcome until – Per capita classes resume, according to Moore.

“We’ll just have to get out of this, hoping that classes resume at Dal and Saint Mary’s in January,” says Moore.

Cleaning units

In the meantime, tenants like Gale and Moore are planning ahead and taking advantage of their unique grip on the market to get through a tough fourth quarter.

“The best way to deal with this is to stop spending and start saving,” says Gale. “This is the first thing I looked for. A lot of things that absolutely shouldn’t happen 100% were immediately canceled. “

In addition, thanks to the fact that a majority of its tenants move in and out in about four days a year, and many of them have to come from far away to move in, have the units cleaned and prepared while at the same time. respecting social distancing has gone relatively well.

“With the exception of a few cases, there was really no rush, as people who were out of the province weren’t rushing to Nova Scotia to move in,” says Gale, who was able to allow its cleaning crew to spend two weeks before having to address most of the units.

“I negotiated part of the work with the tenant, and most of the time, everyone understood.

As for Moore, he caters to international students and offers furnished apartments for semester rentals.

“You don’t need to be stuck in a long-term / annual fixed lease,” he says. “Which is a great option for international students.”

Second wave?

Things could still change if another wave hits and prices don’t pick up in January. In that case, tenants like Moore and Gale might have a little more trouble and would have to court other markets or offer price incentives to make up the difference.

But Gale suspects that however long the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, students will be coming to town this fall, and next winter, and beyond, as college life isn’t just class time.

“Going to college isn’t just going to school, it’s going to the school of life, so to speak,” says Gale.

“There are still children who will want to go to the library. They will still potentially want to go see their teachers. They would rather be stuck with their quarantined buddies rather than stuck with their parents. “

Moore adds that most of the students he spoke to are more concerned about what happens with their lease if schools don’t resume in January and other ways they might be affected by circumstances, not so much the virus. himself.

“One of the great things about college is that you’ll meet people and make friends,” says Moore, and while classes are not a place for that kind of social connection, students and students alike. student communities will likely find ways to reconcile. for that.

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