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Sarnia’s housing shortage: Do students have a hard time finding affordable rentals? Lambton College says no

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Cathy Dobson

Contrary to popular belief, Sarnia’s college student population is not finding a lack of affordable housing, according to school officials.

In fact, there are currently 38 available beds at the college’s only residence and redevelopment is nearly complete at the former SCITS property to accommodate 230 more students.

Royal Wellington Lofts (formerly SCITS high school) is recruiting student applicants for new housing, expected to be available in the New Year.

“I hear people say there’s a lack of student housing and I wonder where that comes from,” said Rob Tuer, Lambton College’s housing support co-ordinator.

“I don’t see shortages here at Lambton College and I know our international students are finding places to live. They seem to be fine.”

Lambton College enrolment is nearly at 5,000 students in Sarnia this semester but is expected to drop sharply in 2023. The winter semester is projected to have an enrolment of 1,695 domestic students and another 1,767 international students.

Tuer works primarily with international students and says he spends a lot of time explaining various rental options to them.

That includes the college residence at 1485 London Rd. that can accommodate up to 280, homestays where homeowners are matched with college students, rental units in the community, as well as a unique program at Vision Nursing Home where international students can work and live.

Tuer said he anticipates renovations at the former SCITS property will be finished soon and hundreds more students will have access to affordable accommodation.

“We’ve been told that the first 75 students may be able to move in Jan. 1,” Tuer said. “My fingers are crossed. We took six students to tour it a couple of weeks ago and they liked the whole concept.”

An information video says that students will have furnished dorm rooms, a cafeteria, access to a gym, quiet study areas and an 800-seat auditorium for video gaming and movie nights. Cost for a 12-month lease is $550-$650 per month plus a $350 per month meal plan.

Royal Wellington Lofts (formerly SCITS high school) is recruiting student applicants for new housing, expected to be available in the New Year.

Toronto developer Rakesh Gupta purchased the former SCITS property from the Lambton Kent District School Board and had hoped to have students living there by now.

However, labour and material shortages during the pandemic delayed the project.
“We are working hard to bring back life into the magnificent SCITS building,” Gupta wrote in a statement to The Journal. “We are thankful to the community and the city for their support.”

Gupta’s student residence is called Royal Wellington Lofts and is being marketed to international and domestic students at www.royalwellingtonlofts.ca.

City Coun. Adam Kilner said he’s relieved to hear more student housing will be available soon because he’s concerned about a general shortage of affordable housing in Sarnia.

Kilner said he’s surprised the college isn’t struggling with a shortage. “I find this confusing,” he said. “The people I talk to doing social work say we lack affordable housing, and that includes students.”

Kilner, the minister at Dunlop United Church, is a member of an interdenominational clergy group that meets monthly to discuss the housing crisis and consider solutions.

“We are all hearing the same thing,” Kilner said. “Rentals are more costly. The cost of buying has gone up. And there’s not enough affordable housing for many, many people.”
Kilner said he wants city, county and college officials to hold a housing forum and “identify the nuances of the situation.”

Meanwhile, city hall is expected to release details in January about an incentive program to encourage the private sector to build more affordable housing.

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