Province to fund much-needed NSCC student housing, but questions remain | The Coast Halifax

Province to fund much-needed NSCC student housing, but questions remain

Will 100 new student rooms at NSCC's IT campus be dorms? Affordable? Nearby? We don't know.

Minister Brian Wong announces plans to build new student housing at four NSCC campuses, on Tuesday Nov. 21.

Students at four Nova Scotia Community College—NSCC—campuses across the province will soon have help finding housing. On Tuesday, Nov. 21, Nova Scotia’s minister of advanced education, Brian Wong, announced an unspecified funding package to build roughly 270 new beds for NSCC students in Springhill, Kentville, Bridgewater and the Institute of Technology in Halifax.

The Halifax campus is expected to receive 100 of those new beds, while Springhill and Bridgewater will receive 40 each and Kentville will get 90. These are in addition to 350 beds currently under construction at NSCC’s Akerley and Ivany campuses in Dartmouth and the Pictou campus in Stellarton. The province had committed $122 million to NSCC to build those three housing sites. However, the cost of the new four sites announced Tuesday is yet to be given. 

This comes as Nova Scotia is facing an affordable housing crisis and students at colleges and universities are left with few to no housing options as they await the government's student housing strategy that was due last spring.

Minister Wong responded to reporters that were questioning his awareness of extensive student housing needs, saying: "We've looked at kind of a range of 8-12% for each school. So we try to make sure that, depending on the population of the school, that we're kind of within that eight to 12% range" of students to units built.

Dalhousie University alone has a population of 21,000 students. In October 2022 the vacancy rate in Nova Scotia was 1%. The numbers haven’t been adding up for a while.

At Tuesday’s announcement at the Institute of Technology, Wong responded to reporters‘s questions about whether universities could expect upcoming funding packages as well to help them build more student housing, as they’re also struggling to provide enough beds to keep up with enrollment.

“We continue to work with all of our post-secondary institutions,” Wong says, “and there is a difference with NSCC and our university system. NSCC: they're a direct arm of the government and we're looking to build these residences, these student housing projects, on government land or land that we know is readily accessible.”

A release from the minister's office Tuesday says: “New facilities will be built on government-owned land at or near existing facilities at each campus. More information about each project, including cost and design, will be announced in the coming months as details are finalized.”

Says Wong: “The negotiations with universities are a different conversation, because they are board-governed independent institutions. But we are certainly working with all of our post secondary sector to find solutions.”

Differences in how funding is distributed to NSCC versus universities are apparent. NSCC received roughly 70% of its funding from the province and roughly 8% from tuition in 2022-23. Dalhousie received 44% of its funding from the province and 45% from tuition and fees in 2022-23.

Wong says: “As those things [for universities] come along, we’re going to announce them. Had we waited two and a half years to announce the three Nova Scotia Community College housing projects that we announced very early on in the mandate, they wouldn't be started yet. Right now we have two of them are going to be ready for September 2024. And the Ivany campus September 2025.”

Says Wong: “We’re really trying to make sure that the students that we need to be the workers for today and tomorrow are able to have a place to live in order to get the education that they need and the education that they deserve. This is one step. This is another step towards solving the housing crisis. Because we know that for every student housing that we're able to buy or build relieves the market.”

Since 2014, Students Nova Scotia have been advocating for a province-wide student housing strategy. In 2021, they were told they would be getting one. Yet, as of today, this strategy has not been released.

When pressed on why the province’s student housing strategy is still outstanding as of Tuesday, Wong says: “I think everybody knows we're a government of action; we announce things as they come. We’re not going to wait to package things up in a pretty package in order to put out a new strategy.

Eirik Larsen, president of NSCC’s Institute of Technology Campus Student Association, says he considered walking away from school because of the realities of juggling rent, tuition, studying and working.

“It's hard to be able to focus on studies while you're looking for a place to live,” says Larsen. “It just adds a lot of unneeded stress on top of your courseload when we really should be focusing all of our mental energy on actually getting our diplomas and certificates.”

Larsen, who is studying cyber security, says: “Now, luckily for me, I've been able to find a place. But [this new housing announcement] is more for future students to try to make sure they can secure their future and have the best possibility to learn and try not to stress.”

Larsen is currently living with family while he continues searching for nearby affordable housing. He says he's been looking for six months and still hasn't found anything that's within his budget.

Does Larsen think his campus could use 100 student beds? “I can see these dorms being filled up as soon as they're built,” he says.

“I don't think it's gonna solve 100% of the problem, but it's definitely a really good start. The more affordable housing we can build in this province is always going to be a good thing.

”The more students that can get into those affordable housing is going to be a good thing.

“And the more students we can move into dormitories can open up more housing spaces for other people that also need housing in the city.”