City of Waterloo leads the way into student housing boom

Founder and CEO , SVN Rock Advisors Inc.
  • Mar. 20, 2014

Derek LoboLeadership by the City of Waterloo has helped accommodate a boom in student housing that other Canadian cities may pay attention to.

This was the finding of a study commissioned by ROCK Advisors Inc. Over the past decade, 8,000 new beds were added to the student housing marketplace. The rest of Canada, by comparison, has only 9,000 purpose-built student housing beds in the market.

“Waterloo has really come a long way,” says Derek Lobo, CEO of ROCK Advisors Inc.  The City of Waterloo has a limited land supply, and through their Height and Density Study, have been able to accommodate higher density housing along planned nodes and corridors which can accommodate a range of users without student housing being one which is largely a private sector housing market.   

A booming student market

According to the ROCK study, 942,944 full-time students enrolled at 82 universities across Canada. Of these, 96,286 or over 10% came from outside Canada, and 389,280 or 41.2% originated in each university’s host city.

“This means that over 400,000 students need housing in and around their universities,” says Lobo. “Universities can’t come close to meeting this demand, so the bulk of the demand has to be met by the private sector.”

The 82 universities surveyed in ROCK’s study only had 113,250 on campus beds available for students. Many of these are offered primarily to first year students, leaving upper year students looking elsewhere for housing.

Private developers stepping forward

In Waterloo, private developers stepped forward to serve the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University’s combined 45,666 full-time students. 8,000 purpose-built student housing beds are now on the market, and more will open in the next two years as developments spring up around both universities.

With their Height and Density policies, “the City of Waterloo was able to accommodate this student housing demand,” says Lobo. “Early this century, they saw that there was a crunch as students spilled out from the universities into the surrounding neighbourhoods, looking for housing. It put a strain on the community until city planners came in to work with the universities and private developers to make things right” partly addressed through the Height and Density policies and a working group.

A dramatic increase in quality

A decade ago, student housing in Canada was associated with substandard and overcrowded properties. “The area around the two universities at Waterloo was in decline. The relationship between students, the universities and the local community was strained and a new process was recently approved to create a more mixed use living environment. ”

As seen in the United States, purpose-built student housing was increasing in number and quality, as student enrollments and student disposable income increased. Students and their parents demanded safe, quality housing close to their classes, and private developers discovered that meeting this demand allowed them to rent properties at higher rates than conventional apartments.

City and universities working together

The City of Waterloo, working with both universities, encouraged the growth of this high-quality purpose-built housing, producing a big transformation in the local area partly through new design policies and guidelines. There is a new attitude to student housing now,” says Lobo. “Students are getting safe, quality housing close to their classes and buildings that improve the neighbourhood. The city benefits through a more efficient use of city services, and now, mixed use projects. The new student housing is easier to police and keep up to code.”

Lobo has high praise for city planners, politicians, university officials and student groups that worked together to create favourable conditions for Waterloo’s student housing boom. “They’re the biggest stand-out in all of Canada. If other cities want to deal with growing demand for student housing – and they’ll have to – Waterloo should be the first place they look to in order to transform these areas for the better.  The City has recently updated its planning policies to continue to promote a high quality environment. 


Derek Lobo is the founder and CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a real estate brokerage with over 30 years of experience in helping investors make the most out of buying, selling, and renovating purpose-built apartment buildings. Learn more about SVN Rock Advisors Inc., Brokerage on their website at

Derek Lobo is the CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a unique full-service brokerage firm. He has focused his entire career on the North American apartment building business. He’s recognized…

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Derek Lobo is the CEO of SVN Rock Advisors Inc., a unique full-service brokerage firm. He has focused his entire career on the North American apartment building business. He’s recognized…

Read more

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