Demand on campus is high for everything from caffeine and
nicotine to meals and medicals, but none is more prized than
a domicile. And, despite a student-driver population augmenting
exponentially every year, free tertiary education and increasing
admission quotas guarantee that the student accommodation
currently on the UWI market will never be sufficient.
Even as you read this column, scores of freshers are crawling
around St Augustine and Curepe, peering through car windows
in search of any sign that intimates an apartment for rent.
Good morning. Good morning. Hello! Good morning.
Its annoying. I usually hide.
But I went through the same routine four years ago, and my
sister and brother before me, my parents finely attuned to
the student-come-to-rent ritual.
Its an eye-opener, for sure. Fresh out of A-levels,
house hunting is when teens finally realise that theyre
going to be on their ownfor some a good thing, for others,
And horrifying ably describes with what they are often met
in their house-hunting excursions.
Curepe is a rum shop town overrun with rodents and straysdogs
and people. The bulk of student accommodation takes the form
of refugee-style rooms with shared bathrooms, foam mattresses
and chain-link fences behind somebodys house.
I once entered a yard on Bushe Street that was shared by pitbulls
and full-grown turkeys. The rooms were so dusty that I left
shoe prints. The landlord, gracious as he was, looked old
and kind of puffy. It was only upon leaving that I realised
he was wearing a diaper.
The place I eventually got in first year was an ancient structure
on Carmody Road. It was all that was left, and I quickly found
At first it seemed quaint and endearing: a stout, wide building
with old-world charm. It also had old-world concrete floors,
cabinets, piping and cockroaches.
Nah, dont worry about cold water. The tank does
heat up in the morning time.
Eh heh. Not in rainy season. My first day of school, and the
pump didnt even work, so I went to school stink. Stink,
I say, because the heat and humidity that suffused the house
was staggering. I used to sweat myself to sleep every night
and wake up in a puddle.
But the Carmody fire truck was palatial compared to other
places. Every time it rained in Spongys Dookiesingh
Street apartment, water would cascade down the wall behind
her bed. In Creeps apartment on Old Tim, the kitchen
had no windows and the toilet was in his bedroom. And when
I later moved across the highway, there was a ceaseless supply
of zaboca-sized bugs and cane dust.
Today, fours years after I sat at Student Advisory Services
(SAS) and sifted through manila folder after manila folder
of places as far as Mt Lambert that were either too far, far
too costly or already taken, theres a beacon of hope.
SAS director Deirdre Charles has lived up to her progressive
promises of student-centredness, creating an accommodation
accreditation association and hiring an accommodation officer.
Now, theres an updated electronic database of rentals,
and students who have problems with their landlords can seek
recourse through the office, once their landlords are members
of the association.
Housing gold mine
But there is only so much SAS can do. Any lawful authority
is limited at best, with discussion and compromise being the
only option available to the officer.
It was only two months ago that the headlines said: Government
takes on rent control. Off campus, landlords, with no
experience in real estate other than painting for rent
signs to hang in their front porches, do as they please.
A significant number of landlords raise their rents every
year. They are permitted to construct apartments without parking
spaces, resulting in theft and traffic. They violate every
fire and building code violation by fitting the greatest number
of students in the smallest possible crevices. And some have
the most asinine rules, like $50 a night for any visitor,
gates locked at 8 pm, and no black music.
And they get away with it. Well, until now, one hopes.
It does boggle the mind, however, that construction companies
have not yet exploited the veritable off-campus housing gold
mine. There are thousands of students who need to be near
their classes and their sources of research, but cant
because there simply isnt enough accommodation. Despite
the Milner Hall expansion and the proposed hall on St Johns
Road, on-campus housing is limited and caters mostly to foreign
The few, new complexes, like DJ Lalos House of Love,
Dhal Hall and Bushe Hall are good models to follow: a series
of modern, secure rooms with self-contained amenities on a
single compound. Throw in a security guard, since the volume
of vulnerable people makes it at high risk, and youll
have the place at which everybody wants to live.
Until then, students will be cooking in kitchens without windows,
dodging pitbulls and turkeys and waking up hot and wet in