Editorial: Private residences an uncertain addition to student housing market

The start of the new year at McGill has also brought with it the rise of a new form of student residence—several private  developments that have been targeting students.

Most of these new residences are built out of converted ex-hotels,  and while these buildings are far from new, the current wave of private residences seem to be aggressively recruiting first-year students. This represents a marked change from the marketing strategy of previous iterations, and one that prompts serious questions about what  these residences and McGill’s housing system should offer to students.

The form of private residence that was most prevalent before this year could be seen as a ‘middle-road’ option for first years moving out of residence who didn’t want to deal with the process of finding an apartment, didn’t have a group of friends to live with, or otherwise wanted to continue the experience of living in residence, among other reasons. What’s new is that several entrants to the market have looked to first-year students who would otherwise live in one of McGill’s residence halls.

Private residences are a worthwhile option for upper-year students, as they provide another way to live without truly compromising the availability and quality of spaces in the general housing market. However, when first-year students are targeted by private residences, there is a distinct problem. By virtue of wanting to live in a private development, these students are likely still looking for a particular kind of social experience, with an introduction to McGill and the university’s community. However, compared to McGill’s residences, these private developments are, at best, lacking. For example, evo, one of the largest of these new residences, hints at some social programs for residents, but does not offer the same kind of enrichment that floor fellows at McGill can provide.

Still, despite this divide, the continued rise of private residences does however provide an opportunity to reimagine what McGill’s residences should or need to be. McGill itself has moved towards placing most of its newer residences in converted hotels, a style that these private developments are imitating. While underutilized hotels are likely the least drawn-out path for acquiring real estate in downtown Montreal, they also provide an experience that arguably prioritizes individual space over the community feel of other residences. Additionally, the rise of private residences could provide additional competition to McGill’s offerings on price or ancillary amenities—evo seems to be far more interested in the latter than the former, which is unfortunate for students looking for more affordable housing.

What should we make of the rise of private residences? While they provide another option in the student housing market for upper-year students, they can’t be a replacement for the services and resources that the McGill residence system offers in terms of resources for social and mental health. Ideally this competition can push the university to seek new ways to improve the residence system, but that remains to be seen.

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