STUDENTS living off-campus in Canadian cities are suffering an acute accommodation crisis.
In Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto students are paying exorbitant rents to live, often illegally, in cramped apartments.
There is no rent control in Vancouver and students are reporting cancelled leases, poor property maintenance and difficult living conditions.
According to the student housing office at the University of British Columbia, there have been 100 students seeking apartments for every one landlord putting up a listing for a tenant.
Last year, one student spent the semester camped in a Volkswagen van outside the university.
Others this year have had to settle for their parents' home, longer travelling time or being cramped into a two-bedroom apartment with three others.
The vacancy rate in Calgary before term started was only 1.5 per cent, so student leaders put out a media alert for accommodation. Home owners responded by listing vacant rooms and apartments with the university's off-campus housing office. The strategy was a success for students.
But Patrick Cleary, Calgary's student union president, said landlords were charging rents beyond most students' budget.
"It still costs students more than what the federal government provides," he said. The Canada Student Loans Program, which manages loans and bursaries for students from nine of the ten provinces, allots Can$286 (Pounds 130) a month for housing.
Average rents in Calgary are estimated at Can$473 for a one-bedroom apartment; rooms in shared suites in Vancouver run from Can$300 to Can$550; in Toronto, from Can$350 to Can$450.
Debt repayment has been the priority for those wanting to reform student loans but the latest housing difficulties may make price differentials between cities more important, says Mr Cleary.