Some students looking for housing in residence at Memorial University are finding themselves out of luck for the upcoming school year, leaving them scrambling to find a place to live as they resume their studies.
Bruce Belbin, director of student residences and ancillary operations at Memorial, said the university has filled 2,500 beds at its campuses across Newfoundland and Labrador and that residences are full to the brim.
"We haven't seen this type of demand for a few years, we estimate demands are up about 15 per cent," Belbin told CBC Radio's On The Go Thursday.
"If we go to things like wait lists and emails we get daily, literally pleading for a place, we are looking at 150 people in St. John's who are actively looking for a place on campus."
Belbin said that while the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't reduced capacity, a section of beds are required to be set aside in the event students need to self-isolate on campus.
The school also made changes to the application process for 2021, eliminating down payments in order to limit barriers for students, while continuing to be first come, first serve.
Belbin said he believes the return to in-person learning, along with the reopening of other colleges and businesses, has created a "perfect storm" that has impacted housing on-campus and across the province.
"We are witnessing lots of requests based on feedback from calls that are coming in saying 'I cant find a place, places I've looked at are not to our standard, prices are too high,'" he said.
"Anecdotally, we know that the market seems to be really tight … So that's what we're up against."
'It's a housing crisis out there'
Concerns over off-campus housing have also made their way to Memorial's students' union.
Hilary Hennessey, the union's executive director of communications and external affairs, said the lack of available housing has students concerned — and the union hoping to advocate for a solution.
"It's a housing crisis out there," she said.
"Students are finding it very hard to find off-campus solutions to the on-campus situation, especially where it's so booked right now.… All we can do is really advocate for spaces to be opened up, if any, and really trying to get the off-campus residential issues resolved and have housing available for the students."
Hennessey said the union has heard in particular from international students, who she says face added stress trying to find a place to live before the school year starts.
"A lot of people aren't able to move into their off-campus housing until October, so that is a big concern," she said.
"Not having secure housing or coming into St. John's and not having a place to live … is extremely stressful. We also have the financial stress as well that comes along with potentially having to allocate money to be able to afford such extremely high costs just to be able to study in St. John's again."
According to a tweet from the university Friday afternoon, some spaces have been made available for students on campus.
Belbin said more opportunities could come up in the coming weeks after the school reopens .
"As you can imagine, a university operates and thrives on it's student body. We haven't had them, so we are really excited and pumped. Can't wait to see them," he said.