UBC weighs affordable housing options

With housing prices skyrocketing in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia has released potential housing program options designed to help create more affordable housing on the Vancouver campus.

The options, which garnered significant feedback during recent community consultations, include the possibility of discounted property purchases and rentals to encourage faculty, staff and students to live on the Vancouver campus.

The effort will inform a UBC Housing Action Plan, which seeks to improve UBC’s ability to compete with top universities and employers for the best and brightest minds, both globally and locally, while helping to build a more sustainable, vibrant residential community.

“If we are going to be one of the world’s great universities, we must be able to attract and retain the absolute best people, and housing is a huge factor of that,” says Prof. Nassif Ghoussoub, chair of UBC’s Community Planning Task Group and a member of UBC’s Board of Governors. “The lack of affordable housing on or near campus makes it harder to attract top researchers and is forcing faculty, students and staff to live and commute farther from campus.”

The team visited North American campuses such as New York University, Columbia, Harvard and UCLA to learn how other universities in expensive cities are tackling housing affordability. They explored how other jurisdictions and government bodies, such as the Resort Municipality of Whistler and BC Housing, offer affordable housing and choices to their constituents, and they consulted widely with campus groups.

“What we learned was that many of these great universities are ahead of us at integrating housing into their overall academic mission,” says Ghoussoub, a professor in UBC’s Dept. of Mathematics and Distinguished University Scholar. He has seen competitor universities with large departments dedicated to outbidding other institutions for emerging research stars, who can attract millions in research funding. “Seeing how others approach housing was truly eye-opening and helped to create consensus around the need to act,” he says.  Affordability options for discussion Highlights of the discussion paper, created by UBC Campus and Community Planning staff,  include a capped appreciation program that would allow tenured or tenure-track faculty to buy (and sell) campus housing at 33 per cent below market prices. Another option sees faculty purchasing campus housing as joint owners with UBC for roughly 30 per cent of their pre-tax income.

Rental options include a proposed partnership with BC Housing that would make UBC the first university in North American to offer non-profit rental housing to eligible employees or faculty with an annual income of less than $64,000. Other proposed rental programs include non-market rental cooperatives for faculty and staff.

While the housing proposals for faculty and staff are still under consideration, the university is already moving forward on a major student housing plan. With more than 9,000 student residents, UBC’s Vancouver campus already has more student housing than any other Canadian campus. The university has committed to housing 2,500 more students by 2016, including the 570 beds opened in Totem Park residence last fall.

Ghoussoub says a greater range of housing size will be created for UBC’s changing demographics also. “A generation ago, graduate students and new professors tended to be single, but now they are often married with two children. We heard a clear need for more sizes and options, from one to four bedrooms,” he says.

One of the largest problems facing planners was ensuring the benefits of affordable housing remain available to future generations, Ghoussoub says. “Given our finite amount of space, we had to restrict these programs to full-time faculty, staff and students. As people retire, graduate or find new jobs, their units will become available for others.”

While faculty and staff would be eligible for rentals, the proposed ownership options target tenured and tenure-track faculty. “Housing is a much greater barrier for attracting and retaining faculty, who are typically recruited from outside the Lower Mainland, than it is for staff, who tend to live in Vancouver and whose careers tend to span more employers,” says Ghoussoub, adding that peer institutions have similar restrictions on their ownership programs.

Once feedback from the March 20-April 2 consultation phase has been gathered, the team will conduct additional feasibility studies before preparing their recommendations for UBC’s Housing Action Plan, which UBC’s Board of Governors will consider this summer.

“Investing in affordable housing would mean significant trade-offs for the university,” says Ghoussoub. “But I strongly believe that these programs will offer far greater long-term net benefits, both financially and in terms of building a vibrant, sustainable community with a strong academic flavour,” he says.

Read the UBC Housing Action Plan Discussion Paper at: http://ubcvhousingactionplan.sites.olt.ubc.ca

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UBC Reports | Vol. 58 | No. 4 | Apr. 4, 2012

UBC Prof. Nassif Ghoussoub is leading UBC’s Housing Action Plan. Mark Mushet Photograph

UBC Prof. Nassif Ghoussoub is leading UBC’s Housing Action Plan. Mark Mushet Photograph

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“We must be able to attract and retain the absolute best people, and housing is a huge factor.”

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