Elev builds student housing hub

As housing becomes ever more precarious for post-secondary students, startup Elev is building a platform that seeks to make them more attractive to landlords in order to encourage more matches between the two.

"As a student, when you are in the general market for housing, there are many characteristics that prevent you from competing against other people that are in the market," co-founder and COO Jean Bruce Koua told Taproot. "For example, as a student, you are expected to have a credit score or credit history, payroll/pay stub … which many students don't have."

The Elev platform allows students to browse rentals that range from whole apartments to shared accommodations with other roommates, as well as to book viewings, apply for and sign a lease, find a roommate, and pay for rent. For landlords, which Elev refers to as hosts, the platform allows a place to advertise an offering and describe its essentials, as well as to set their availability for showings, manage applications and maintenance requests, and receive payments.

Elev acts as a middleman and charges from both sides. On the student side, it adds 2-4% to a unit's base rent to the fee it advertises to prospective tenants and collects this from the monthly payment. On the host side, Elev takes 1% of the base rent from a host's revenue.

Elev aims to offer value for these charges with protective features. For landlords, it recently added a guarantee that rent will arrive on time even if a student falls behind paying it. Elev also covers a student's rent for 45 days if they break a lease, and works to find a host a replacement tenant.

A similar insurance feature is currently in beta testing to help students with rent when they hit income delays. It helped platform users who experienced delays to their student loans in the fall semester.

"The vision for Elev is that no students in Canada, and eventually across the world, ever has to worry about finding housing and living off campus," Koua said. "And so that's sort of our mission — making sure that every student has a door and a place to stay while they're attending university."

Three men smile and stand next to each other in matching black jeans and white t-shirts that say "elev".

Kevin Mpunga (left), Jean Bruce Koua, and Kwasi Boateng co-founded Elev in 2020 after struggling to find housing as students. (Supplied)

Koua's experiences with Canada's rental market began six years ago when he moved from Tanzania to Edmonton to study at the University of Alberta as an international student. "When I got into the university I (had) to find a place to stay, off campus," he said. "I couldn't necessarily afford to live on campus because I was already paying international tuition fees. So, essentially, I had to navigate the whole off-campus housing markets from the moment I got to university."

He briefly stayed in hotels as he searched for somewhere to live within his budget, while simultaneously navigating a new country and culture. "It was a profound learning experience, teaching me about the diverse aspects of life and housing in Canada," Koua said.

Koua co-founded Elev in 2020 with CEO Kevin Mpunga, and CTO Kwasi Boateng. Each faced similar challenges in their searches for housing as students.

The platform, which launched in 2022, now has more than 3,000 users but Koua said Elev is specifically hoping to attract more hosts.

"We have more student demand than we have of supply available, so we're currently actively looking for those houses, or listings, or essentially any additional room that anyone has to host," he said.

To grow its student users, Elev has worked with the University of Alberta Students' Union, Concordia University of Edmonton, and NorQuest College. They are also working to establish partnerships necessary to expand across Alberta, followed by Canada.

Elev's ease of use for each party could contribute to the "missing middle" housing that student leaders say they want to see on offer to students.

Meanwhile, exceedingly high rent increases, low vacancy rates, and inflation are all pushing students into poverty and in some cases, into precarious housing situations.

Elev refers to their renters as hosts as not every user is a traditional landlord leasing multiple properties. Instead, they could merely be someone with a spare room to rent.

Koua said he hopes Elev can remove a significant barrier to thriving as a student.

"Students don't have (to) stress about everything around housing, we take care of that, and they focus on what they're here to do, which is achieve their academic success."

Elev was presented with the Community Builder Award and a prize of $50,000 at the 2023 Digital Commerce Calgary Fintech Award ceremony in October.

"What we're doing with Elev is we're building an ecosystem for student living," Koua said.