Room for rent, at what cost?

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By Jen Gerson

The beds have been stripped, the halls fumigated and Ryerson’s student residences are open for business. On Aug. 24, more than 800 students will line Mutual street balancing televisions, DVD players, junk food and clothes hampers stuffed with kitchenware. After picking up keys and security cards, many of these students will fill out cheques that rival tuition statements care of Ryerson Student Housing.

“The concrete walls sucked,” said former Pitman Hall resident Kari Pasick, a journalism graduate of 2003. “Residence was extremely expensive. Luckily my parents paid.”

Pitman and the International Leaning and Living Centre, Ryerson’s two major residences, house 807 freshman and returning students annually. They also charge more rent for less room than some surrounding buildings.

The cheapest rooms available in Pitman Hall, complete with cinderblock walls, single beds and florescent lights will cost $4,722 for eight months, or $590.25 a month. No compensation is provided for the three weeks in December when students are forced to leave residence for winter break. A student living in Pitman’s single room with shared bath will get to share his kitchen and shower with four others.

For a slightly higher rent ($625.38 a month). residents can score a semi-private room. Same amenities — minus a kitchen, but the bathroom is shared with only one other. With this style of room the only kitchen accessible is shared with everyone on the floor.

Then there’s the residence’s lap of luxury — the ILLC’s single private bathroom. Formerly a hotel, the ILLC features queen size beds, private bathrooms and cable television, all for a mere $758.63 a month. Each kitchen in the building is shared between 30 people. Rent doesn’t include internet, phone, laundry, program fees or the food administration fee.

Aside from the rent, Ryerson’s residences include a mandatory meal plan. The student pays a minimum of $2,200 ($1,685 in certain types of rooms) which is loaded onto the Ryerson One card. The money is then redeemable for food anywhere on the Ryerson campus and only on the Ryerson campus. Any money left on the card by the end of the year is non-refundable. It’s impossible to opt out of the plan.

Two doors down the street from the ILLC at 262 Jarvis St. a full bachelor with hardwood floors, private bathroom and kitchen costs $675 a month including hydro.

“We did do a comparison and [the rent at Ryerson’s residences] actually come below the market rate,” said Philip Lim, business operations manager of student services, though due to time constraints he was not able to produce the comparison.

Residence can run as low as $379.38 a month a O’Keefe house. Ryerson’s smallest residence provides space for 33 students in rooms shared between two and three people.

“Residence is full cost recovery, the university doesn’t subsidize it. The net revenue goes just to service the debt. First to upgrade and cleaning but the leftover goes to debt,” said Ken Marciniec, RyeSAC president. Ryerson was left with a debt of almost $30 million after mortgaging to buy Pitman hall. But Lim insists that students won’t see any effects of the debt until 2013, but the school is paying interest.

Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse said that Ryerson will start to pay off the principal of the debt in 2011.

Residence Neil-Wycik is a housing co-op located at Gerrard and Jarvis streets and is unaffiliated with Ryerson. Rents here run as low as $310 a month for shared accomadations to as high as $489 a month for a single studio.

“It’s a shit hole,” said Pasick of Neil-Wycik. “It’s just dirty. The floors are gross, the walls are gross…there used to be bed bugs.”

Hygiene was a big concern for Amanda Kruschak a firs-year radio and television arts student who’s moving to Toronto from Sault St. Marie.

“It’s hard to get a place that isn’t infested with cockroaches and close to campus,” said Kruschak. She’s never seen Ryerson’s campus and heard about housing woes from friends and Ryerson students. ”

“I just wouldn’t be able to afford paying rent throughout the school year as opposed to just paying residence fees,” she said, though she admitted she hadn’t checked out houses for comparable housing.

“I didn’t even really consider staying in an apartment…I think [residence] should be interesting and welcoming. I’m going to have a good time with the different cultures and programs.”

Giselle Phelps, third-year journalism student, has worked at the off-campus housing registry for over a year. She says the majority of students who come to the registry to look for a place to rent are new to the city.

“A lot of the time it can be cheaper to live off-campus,” said Phelps. “But the benefits of residence are self-evident. It’s really supportive, close to campus, with a lot of people who are in the same situation as you.”

“It’s stress-free to live in residence, once you pay your fees you’re taken care of for the rest of the year,” said Phelps.

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