The following is based on my experience at Osgoode, though some of the
material will equally apply to other schools...
Osgoode Hall has the largest, and one of the only law-designed residence
in Canada. I believe that other schools simply offer standard graduate or
undergraduate housing. Therefore, this post will address the pros and
cons of living in residence in general, but will focus on my experience at
Osgoode Chambers, or “The OC,” is just across the street from the school. I’m currently one of the Residence Fellows charged with engaging the residents by offering support and planning activities. If you’re a local, I’d suggest staying with your parents as long as you can stand it. The combination of no income and sky-high tuition is daunting–not to mention the lack of Mom’s cooking and laundry services. GTA residents have a tough choice: there are GO Busses that serve York, but commuting from Oakville or Oshawa is a pain in the neck–I can’t study on busses. Weigh the pros and cons…if you have a car, I’d probably commute.
For the rest of us from outside Toronto (or those of us who had been disowned), there are quite a few options.
Osgoode Chambers, or “the OC,” is comprised of the three western buildings of the Passy Graduate Residence Complex. You can find pictures and video tours on the York Apartments website. There’s additional information about living on campus, wellness, and student life on Osgoode’s website.
I lived in the OC for three years, and was a "residence advisor" for my last, so I know them better than most. The apartments are self-contained and furnished. There are one-bedroom and bachelor units available. Most apartments are accessible from the street, except those on the third floor. The courtyards are well kept and quite pretty in the non-winter months. The “Owl’s Nest” is a communal space for gatherings. Availability for first years is guaranteed.
The convenience factor is unparalleled: the OC is right across the street from Osgoode! I frequently wake up 15 minutes before class, and avoid the time and expense of commuting. First year classes at Osgoode are (unfortunately for some) held every day, which is why many students chose to live here for first year. You’ll inevitably have 8:30am courses on your 1L standardized timetable. You’ll also be able to spend more time engaging in school events and activities.
Perhaps the greatest advantage is living with fellow law students. I believe Osgoode is one of the only schools in Canada that offers a law-only residence. You will make life-long friendships with people that will one day be your colleagues.
My BEST piece of advice for the OC: apply early, and snag a one Bedroom. They’re SO worth the extra cost, and ten times more comfortable, with double beds and some with 2 floors and balconies. I felt claustrophobic in the bachelors; and the single beds (which double as sofas?) are dreadful–to me, this is major con. All the beds are all rock hard, so bring your own mattress and throw it on top. The lights are equally horrid, they’re the hospital style, harsh-light, noise-making variety. A couple of cheap Ikea standing lamps will remedy this problem. The furniture is old, but decent. On the plus side, the York apartments staff is generally good, and the maintenance team often fixes problems on the same day.
Assiniboine, Atkinson, and the York Village
The rental costs can be found on the York Apartments website, and they rise every year. A one-bedroom will likely cost ~$1050 next year, and a bachelor ~$900. This is expensive, especially for the area. The rent is a bit less than you’d pay at St Clair West Subway station (where many upper-year Ozzies live) and quite a bit less than what you’d pay downtown, without the commuting costs. Some students chose to live in the Assiniboine towers right next door, which are a bit cheaper. There’s also the Atkinson complex that’s more in the center of campus, but totally unfurnished.
If you don’t mind sharing, rent is much cheaper in the “York Village,” which is comprised of brand new townhouses located just south of campus. This is all private property, unlike the residences which are maintained by the University. The homes are modern with nice trimmings, but the landlords like to jam as many students as possible into them. Students (especially undergrads) tend to be messy: you’ll likely see litter and old rusty bicycles and barbeques–thus, the village has the reputation of being a bit of a ghetto. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
If your resources are tight, my suggestion is to troll your class Facebook page or advertise on Lawstudents.ca over the summer for fellow law students, and a bunch of you (4,5,6?) can share a townhome. Your share of the rent can be half that of a private apartment in residence, but sharing with others does involve potential roommate feuds–chose your roomies wisely. Buying/transporting furniture is a major hassle, especially if you don’t plan on staying the summer like most students (the campus is pretty dead).
Let’s start with often-made criticisms of living on campus. Being in the burbs, it’s a bit hard to get around without a car. And yes, York is located close to the Jane and Finch intersection: an impoverished area of the city. Prospective students often voice concerns of safety. I’ve personally never felt unsafe on campus, nor do I know anyone personally who has experienced an incident. The OC is just across the street from the school, and York has beefed up security as of late. There’s a Safewalk program and a shuttle, but I don’t know anyone who uses them.
In terms of access to services, the York gym costs $15 per year, and is about a 10 minute walk across campus. York Lanes, the commercial hub of campus, offers a plethora of fast food options, two banks, a walk-in medical clinic and a pharmacy. For groceries and furniture (remember, the OC is furnished–but you might want to buy a few extras, including those Ikea lamps), there is a No Frills, Superstore, Ikea, Home Depot, and many other big box retailers within a 5 minute drive of campus. Now, if you don’t have a car (you don’t really need one, and parking is expensive), there are convenient Zipcars located right across Sentinel Road from the OC.
Personally, I liked doing big grocery runs once a month, rather than going every week. My year, the school paid for periodic Zipcar trips to Superstore for OC residents (my own personal initiative). I’m one of the few who actually feels comfortable going to the No Frills at Jane and Finch to get groceries: they’re fresher and cheaper. I’m not sure why so many law students are scared of poor people… By contrast, I lived at U of T one summer: though it’s obviously more centrally located, I found carrying groceries back by hand or on the TTC to be a HUGE pain.
A night out on the down can be tricky. If you stay out past 2am, the subways close down. The bus route back to York is admittedly terrible–actually, there is no route to York. You have to take the Yonge St “vomit comet” and then change at Finch, and then trudge for 15 minutes up Sentinel Road. I was lucky in that my partner lived downtown this year. Many OCers will share a cab back up to York: it can be quite expensive ($40-50).
In essence, I found living at Osgoode to offer the best of both worlds: proximity to downtown Toronto for career events, job interviews, and the odd night out, but far enough away from the city to avoid distraction and be able to hunker down and study in relative peace and quiet. Whether you will enjoy it here depends on your personality. If you prefer the hustle and bustle of city living, as many do, you might find the OC to be a bit unexciting. But after all, this is 1L: there’s really not that much time for bar-hopping and exploring the city! I, like many others, live downtown in the summertime. It’s really not worth staying unless you’re in summer school. Remember to give your 2 months notice in February!!
Most upper years leave the OC and commute to school, primarily for the perks of city living, and the ability to tailor class schedules in upper years down to 3 or 4 days per week. The University Subway Line will be extended by 2016, which will make the commute more bearable for downtowners. Check viewit.ca if you haven’t already.
The York Vicinity
The area around York is quite barren, and very few students live in the environs. There’s a lot of social housing to the South and West. Some people live around Downsview subway station and the Allen Expressway; there’s quite a few new buildings poppping up, but the area of generally quite sterile with few services and no real urban “vibe.” I personally dislike the Eglinton West area, it’s hectic and always jam packed with traffic.
Unless you have a car, I would NOT suggest living far from the University Line unless you’re prepared for a hellish commute. Some students live on the densely populated Yonge line, and even the new Sheppard “stubway” line, and transfer to an express 196B bus at Yonge-Sheppard station, which goes directly to York. “Express” means it still stops at a few major intersections, including Downsview station. It’s still a real pain in the neck, and at least 2 hours out of your day. Rents are generally higher along Yonge, too. I just wouldn’t go there.
My apartment, and tutoring facility, is in the cluster of high rises that surround St Clair West subway station. It’s a great area: proximate to banks, parks, a big Loblaws, THREE LCBOs, (watch out!) and restaurants and services along St Clair. In terms of transit, it’s ideal: the University line takes you north to Downsview (and the bus to York) and south to the Downtown core. The Bathurst bus runs north-south and the St Clair right-of-way streetcar runs east-west to the Yonge line. A large number of Osgoode students live around this corner for these reasons.
The Annex (around Dupont Subway Station) is even more student-oriented, chalk-full of U of T students (and some from Ryerson, OCAD). There are fewer tall apartments, but many old homes that have been converted into low-rise apartments. Expect the rent in a mid-range building Midtown to be around $1300 for a large one-bedroom. If you share with a roommate, 2 BR units run around $1500, and there are choices in the Annex for 4/5/6 bedroom apartments.
If you don’t mind a slightly longer subway ride, and higher rents, lots of students love living right downtown. It really depends on how “urban” you want your life to be. Remember, 1L is super arduous as it is: you won’t have a lot of time to enjoy your downtown lifestyle, especially with a 2 hour commute every day for first year.
Owning a Car
If you chose to own a car, obviously you have many more living options. An FYI for out-of-provincers: car insurance in Ontario is privately-run and ridiculously expensive (compared to BC and Quebec, at least), especially for young males. Insurance costs rise the closer you live to downtown. Traffic in Toronto is a nightmare during rush hour, especially on the Allen (disaster). To top it off, York charges a small fortune for parking. However, if you live in a more remote area, a car can be a necessity.
Excerpt from The Trials of Law School featuring Elizabeth Warren from her days at Harvard Law Professor.