How the Pandemic is Impacting Student Housing

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many university and college students lived in student housing properties as part of their higher education experience. But the pandemic meant that schools had to quickly react for the safety of their student communities. That resulted in moving to remote learning models, closing dorms and dramatically disrupting the lives of students and faculty. Kids either went back home, or found a place in the off-campus market.

Many purpose-built off-campus student rentals were leased out in the early days of the pandemic and so the student housing market remained resilient and emerged in 2020 relatively intact. But what’s ahead for 2021?

The Rental Market in 2021

Looking back, the recent National Rent Report noted that the average rent for all Canadian properties (listed on in December was $1,723 per month, down 7.1% year over year, the lowest rate of decline since May. 

The reported stated that the “biggest factors that resulted from the pandemic were job loss for workers lower in the pay spectrum, and a major decline in immigration. Most lower-income workers rent, and many (if not most) immigrants, international students, and temporary workers rent when they first arrive in Canada.”

However, it’s important to note that while rents were down for single family homes and condos, apartment rentals bucked the trend, rising by 8.4% year over year to $1,603 in December 2020. (It must be pointed out that the report looks at asking rates only, not actual rates after incentives.)

Looking ahead, the authors of the report point out that the slow vaccine rollout combined with the second wave of COVID-19 is expected to impact rental rates, resulting in a decline over the next three to four months, perhaps longer. They also cite the fact that due to travel restrictions the demand for short-term rental properties has dwindled, and these properties are now available for long-term use, saturating the condo market. Despite these shorter-term hurdles, overall, there’s a sense of optimism and resilience headed into 2021.

The Pandemic & Foreign Students

Across the country, universities rely on foreign students. At the start of 2020, Canada ranked 3rd globally as a destination for international students, with a staggering 642,000 foreign students. (This number has tripled in the last decade alone.)

At this moment in time, the border is still open to international students with a valid study permit or a letter of introduction showing that you have been approved for a study permit. They must also be attending a designated learning institution with an approved COVID-19 readiness plan. (International students must quarantine for 14 days after arrival.)

On-Campus + Off-Campus Housing

While universities have resumed classes in the new year with remote learning, no one seems sure about when they might resume in-class lectures.

 The pandemic meant that some universities have closed their on-campus housing for the Winter 2021 term. Many on-campus residencies are announcing new policies of allowing only one student per residence room, meaning that the on-campus housing population could drop to 60% of the usual number. 

The knock-on effect is that it is driving demand for off-campus housing. The off-campus student rental market has mostly weathered the pandemic storm, according to sources in the property management industry, and with the hope of a return to some sense of normalcy in the latter part of 2021, it’s expected to emerge relatively strong, as the Canadian student market is still underserved.

What Students Want in 2021

So, while the student market is expected to fare better than other industry segments, the pandemic has had an impact on what student tenants are looking for in a place to live.

Private bathrooms, more space to safely isolate, and amenities are more in demand than ever before. Students (and their parents who often foot the bill) want something more than a cramped space with a bed and a desk.

 How Property Vista Helps Student Housing

Property Vista’s student housing software has all the features you need to manage your tenants, including marketing, tenant communications, integrated payments (that support rent-splitting amongst tenants) and maintenance. And, our new Waitlist functionality allows you to process tenant applications long before existing tenants move out.  Read more here.