‘Substantial’ rent hike puts students on the hook

Michelle is a single mother and student at Yukon College. Over the past three years, she’s seen her monthly rent increase from $640 to $900…

Michelle is a single mother and student at Yukon College.

Over the past three years, she’s seen her monthly rent increase from $640 to $900 for a two-bedroom apartment at the school’s old residence.

Next year, a two-bedroom in the newly built residence will cost $1,000.

“What student can afford to pay $1,000 a month?” she said on Tuesday.

The rent hike is “substantial” and was unexpected, said Michelle, who asked her real name be withheld from this article because she plans to go back to the college in September and fears speaking out might jeopardize her spot in the residence.

“The college is a convenient place to live and I probably will go back there in the fall despite the increase,” she said.

“It’s probably still the best deal and that’s scary,” she added.

The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Whitehorse is $700, according to a Yukon Bureau of Statistics rent survey report from March 2007.

That’s up from $675 in March 2006.

Although rents in the Yukon are up across the board, the residence rent hike is “a big jump,” said Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough.

In 2005, a two-bedroom unit was $640 a month, in 2006 it jumped to $750 a month. That’s a 17 per cent increase, he said in the legislature on Monday.

“That same unit this fall will jump to $900 a month — an outstanding 40 per cent in just two years,” said Fairclough.

“It’s not easy having to parent, study and put food on the table by working one or two jobs maybe.

“So why are we encouraging these people to further their education and say, ‘thank you’ by hitting them with a ridiculous cost increase?” Fairclough asked Education Minister Patrick Rouble.

It isn’t the government’s job to tell the college what to charge for rent, answered Rouble.

It’s Yukon College’s decision, Rouble said after question period on Monday.

The government built the residence for the Canada Winter Games, and is in the process of handing it over to the college to operate, he said.

“This asset is being transferred to Yukon College with no mortgage, with no chattels, with no liens — it’s a transaction that is completed and we’ve got money in the budget to furnish it.

“Any other jurisdiction in Canada would love to be in a situation like that.”

Yukon College administration decides what to charge for rent, then hands those numbers to the Board of Governors for approval, said Colleen Wirth, the college’s director of student services.

The rent hike is necessary for the college to break even.

“We have to be realistic in terms of covering our other costs so we aren’t needing to dip into program dollars that go directly into education for the students,” said Wirth.

“The college had to look at how we maintain the residence and have the rates cover the actual cost of running it.”

In the past, the college has had to use funds meant for other programs to pay the cost of the residence and its programming, she said.

The college residence runs an elder-in-residence program, First Nation craft program, and it brings in speakers to fit the students’ interests.

“We try to have activities that nurture a sense of community because the residence is their home.”

There are 61 single units and eight existing family residences in the old residence.

There are 12 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bedroom units in the new building.

Typically, the college has 10 students or families waiting for a spot in residence.