Ultra Vires


The Cost of Affordable University Housing

Reports of mold, cockroaches, and other issues in student family housing

University Family Housing (UFH) is a cheap, close-to-school option for students with one or two children and/or those living full-time with a common-law partner or spouse. However, past and current residents have reported recurring cockroach infestations, heat issues, repeated water shut-offs, and mold problems in the Charles Street Community, raising concerns about the conditions student families and couples must endure to find affordable accommodations within the city. 

UFH currently consists of the Charles Street Community (two highrises built in 1969 housing approximately 2,000 adults and children) and the Huron-Sussex Community—a group of historic homes owned by U of T converted into apartments for new faculty, a small number of student families, and some long-term tenants. Amongst the 35 Charles St. highrise tenants, one resident made a bingo card of the problems they face, featuring cockroaches, water shutoffs, mold, water leaks, lost internet connections, too little heat, too much heat, and fire alarm testing. It should be noted that residents at the Charles Street Community are responsible for paying for their own internet services through private providers.


A past student resident of the 35 Charles St. complex recounted a lengthy battle with building management to address a mold issue. The building did not respond to the student’s initial maintenance requests, and the student grew increasingly concerned due to physical reactions to the mold. 

At one point, the campus police were called to the tenant’s unit because building security viewed the mold as a safety issue—building management later acknowledged this was an error in judgment. Eventually, a hole was cut in the wall to investigate the problem (a water leak). The unit underwent mold remediation, and the student was transferred to a new unit. 

Ultra Vires requested comments from the University on the issues named in this article. When asked about mold concerns, the University asserted that the building operations team reviews each mold report and escalates matters to Environmental Health and Safety when appropriate.


A current law student resident at 35 Charles St. noted the building is infested with cockroaches. The severity of the issue in each apartment depends on the extent of the infestation in neighbouring units, so some areas of the building are more affected than others. The student and their family diligently seal every opening in their unit, including grates over vents and covers over electrical outlets. The tenant noted that building management does in fact respond to treatment requests; however, the cockroaches can return quickly if a neighbouring unit does not receive the same treatment. This is in addition to the ongoing hassle of removing all items from cupboards and covering furniture each time in preparation for treatment. 

On the problem of cockroaches, U of T Media Relations noted that cockroaches are “a reality at all large downtown apartment buildings.” UFH has an ongoing pest control program and undertakes building-wide, targeted treatments. Management likewise provides weekly gel and spray treatments to units that request it and will conduct block inspections of apartments to identify unreported issues in addition to annual unit inspections.

Heating and Water

The student likewise noted an issue with the distribution of the central heating in the building. One side of the building is always too cold, and one side is too hot. Usually, this is not a large inconvenience for the student and their family. That being said, there was a time last year when a May heatwave struck and building management refused to turn off the heat until June 1. The student’s family needed to leave the unit for the majority of two days due to the unbearable heat. 

The University noted that the heating system adjusts to the outdoor temperature, but these adjustments can take about 24 hours. Building management tries to find “a balance” when responding to requests from residents regarding temperature concerns.  

Finally, the student mentioned that the water is turned off every three to four weeks for 24 hours at a time. According to the University, there have been nine building-wide water shutdowns in the past calendar year to repair plumbing. The shutdowns usually occurred between 8am to 5pm; the University reported no 24-hour water shutdowns in either Charles Street building.

An Unfortunate Reality

One of the tenants I spoke to acknowledged that many of these issues are not isolated to the 35 Charles St. building, but symptomatic of any large downtown highrise. Considering the age of the building—over 50 years old at this point—it is likewise expected that various maintenance issues will arise. As a result of this, the University claims they have an ongoing preventive maintenance strategy to address the aging infrastructure.

The University noted that maintenance feedback surveys show a 96 percent satisfaction rate from Charles Street residents for unit maintenance work. Residents can submit maintenance requests online or by contacting the maintenance office and staff, who are available after hours for emergency issues. 

Tenants have more or less accepted the conditions, and the same can be said for many other people facing similar issues in downtown units. Cockroaches and mold are only a handful of the problems Toronto residents put up with as a cost of living in a major city. 

This by no means is a justification for such deplorable conditions—especially considering the astronomical rent the average Toronto tenant pays—and specifically for U of T family housing, the wealth associated with the University of Toronto raises questions about the University’s priorities. 

In University Family Housing’s Annual 2021–22 Report (the most recent report available), the overall operating expenses budget was $13 million. The largest portion of that budget (30 percent) went to annual and major maintenance (including all maintenance expenses plus cleaning, garbage, and grounds). UFH’s revenue is largely derived from residence fees (74 percent) and Huron-Sussex rentals (21 percent). Like other residences operated by the University, UFH is a “self-funded ancillary operation” and does not receive central University funding for operations or capital work. 

In contrast, the 2022–23 U of T budget report noted an operating budget of $3.23 billion for core teaching and administrative activities; $143 million for ancillary costs like residences and food; and $186 million for capital expenses related to major construction and renovation projects.

With so much money in the University coffers and major construction projects underway like the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre (made possible by a $100 million donation), some may wonder why family housing conditions remain at a sub-par level. 

When asked why central U of T funding is not directed towards UFH, the University claimed limited operating funds are meant to support U of T’s “core academic operations and priorities across the broad categories of teaching and research.” As a result, housing must be self-funded. This arrangement “is a common practice across all publicly funded or publicly assisted higher-education institutions” according to the University.

The Charles Street buildings are old, and it is a considerable undertaking to upkeep an aging building in the heart of downtown Toronto. This article is not meant to suggest the building management does not care about the residents, but rather to ask: given the conditions, is it possible for more to be done, perhaps with additional funding?

The conditions in University Family Housing highlight yet another chronic symptom of the ongoing housing crisis: in order to find affordable accommodations, tenants must simply accept that they will endure pests, maintenance issues, and other undesirable conditions.   

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