Saturday, 30 August 2014

The student housing crisis

The Edmonton Journal reported on the challenging issues for student residence (read the article here).  With Edmonton's vacancy rate at 1.4% and student housing at the schools selling out for year and years in a row, it is significantly difficult for students to find a place to live that is even remotely near their school.  International students find it even more difficult; often they are navigating a new language, have never rented before and have never seen a lease document and don't know the country let alone the city; all on top of what a young adult experiences when they leave home to attend school.

I'm currently working on a project that could fill this need.  I want to build a mixed use multi-family building on Whyte avenue.  This innovative building would be marketed to international students as value added housing, I'll explain what that means in a bit.  Many students coming from Asia use study abroad agencies to locate a school for them and the agencies would only be able to offer student residence, if available.  Once this building is constructed I would form some sort of partnership with these agencies to promote my building.  The services I would offer the students when they arrive would be support in getting a bank account set up, phone set up, travel and tourism information, connection to a community; that is the value added part.  Having these partnerships with the agencies would allow for more regular - prescreened applicants; which in turn would allow me to have more flexibility in the lease terms (not offer only one year lease terms).  These additional services would warrant a higher monthly lease rate, or when times are bad differentiate the product from the competition.

But....The building is not constructed, and why - well that story is for another day!

Monday, 11 August 2014


Infill Development Edmonton Association was created just this year to promote infill projects in Edmonton.  What a great idea!  

Edmonton struggles with great infill projects as the City is focused on developing the burbs.  It is quite a challenge to develop infill projects in Edmonton as land costs can be quite high, existing communities can be resistant to new projects (NIMBY) and conflicts between City department for example - the City's long term planning and short term planning (i.e. zoning bylaws).

I know this from experience.  One project that I completed was developing a secondary suite (aka - grandma suite) in a single family house (zoned RF1) in Duggan.  What should have been a fairly simple project to execute (it was under $20,000 worth of reno's) turned into a one year nightmare.  To start, my development permit sat on the permit officer's desk for six months while I called (and got voicemail) several times a week.  The only way I eventually saw any action was when I made a formal complaint to his manager.  What followed next was a very cryptic hand written note mailed to me asking me something about a fire inspection.  Giving up on trying to get an answer from the permitting office, I phoned the fire chief.  Amazing enough the fire department knew exactly what I needed, but they needed permitting to make the request.  Thankfully they put me in touch with the Secondary Suite Coordinator who organizes the multitude of departments that need to inspect the premises to get your permit.  Once I called the City's coordinator things then went smoother but what a journey to get there.

The program is quite a bit different now but I imagine navigating the permitting office is about the same.  The Cornerstone program is a great initiative to help support higher density in mature neighbourhoods by allowing and funding up to 50% (when I applied it was 75%) of the upgrades required.  Things they look for are two furnaces, proper drywalled ceilings, adequately sized windows in the bedrooms; most of the requests are safety related and quite reasonable.

For more information on the Secondary Suites and the Cornerstone program: CLICK HERE.


Anthony (Tony) Valente is a Professional Engineer with significant experience in construction.  He owns a development company called TOTAL HOUSE which operates in the primary and secondary residential rental markets.  Tony also is available for project management or consulting services.  You can contact him at