After high school, many young adults move out of their parents’ houses to pursue their post-secondary education, but as real estate prices rise in the Lower Mainland, this may not be an affordable option.
Alex McGowan, of the Alliance of British Columbia Students, believes that although on-campus housing costs are “a little high to be affordable” – on-campus housing is generally the best option for students because its costs are below the market price for housing.
On-campus housing can also benefit students’ learning and immersion in their school culture. By cutting out commuting hours, student housing is saving students time, money and improving their interaction with the school population.
Moreover, taking students out of the rental housing equation could reduce the shortage of rentable spaces and could, in turn, reduce risks of homelessness.
Despite the positive impact student housing provides, there is a substantial shortage of it at educational establishments in the Lower Mainland and throughout B.C.
At SFU, UVic and UBC alone, 11,000 applicants for student housing have been put on wait lists.
A crucial culprit for this shortage is B.C.’s restriction on public entity debts, which prevent many schools from developing housing options due to a lack of funds. Relaxing this restriction would allow for more student housing to be built which, according to the calculations of the Alliance of British Columbia Students, could create 20,000 new residences in B.C., 13,500 in Metro Vancouver and 450 in the Fraser Valley.
This would allow our province to catch up with our neighbouring provinces that have a 10 per cent on-campus student housing population. When loosening restrictions specific to the student housing issue, there would not be a negative effect to B.C.’s credit rating, as the government fears, since the housing would be self-supporting.
The cost of building one bed in on-campus housing could be fully refunded within 10 years of its construction by charging the average rent.
This is why Alex McGowan believes that the provincial government can easily free up universities and colleges to build housing, without “opening debt floodgates.” According to Alex, “many post secondary institutions are chomping at the bit to build.”
When asked if he could see the student housing situation improving within the next five years, he replied that “if universities and colleges are given the green light within the next couple of months, this situation can begin improving within two years.”
The “green light” needed to advance this project is currently being negotiated with the provincial government.
Michelle Gervais, a participant in these negotiations, became involved in the topic of student housing as a member of the Capilano Students’ Union.
Capilano has no student housing and as a result, Gervais has heard of students traveling from as far as Maple Ridge and Chilliwack who dedicate three to four hours to their daily commute.
Often students can’t afford the high rental market prices near the university, and Michelle recounted the extreme case of one student who was living in his van near the Capilano River because he could not pay the rent in North Vancouver.
This is the kind of situation that could be remedied by a positive result in the negotiations.
In response to my inquiry about how the negotiations were going, Michelle replied that there is an upcoming provincial election in May of 2017 and that they have gotten very positive responses from all levels of government.
The recommendations have been officially adopted by the NDP, endorsed by the Green Party and after several meetings with the Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkins, he seems to be be softening his stance.
The proposals have also been met with great support from local municipal governments from around the province. In fact, the Union of BC Municipalities officially passed a resolution to support the recommendations.
Reassuring signs like these help to quench my anxieties about planning for my future.
Much like the majority of my generation, I worry about being able to afford to live where I was raised.
Improvement in student housing could alleviate my resignation to endless commuting and supply me with the same opportunities that were available for my parents.
Bronte Miner is a Grade 11 English Honours student at Maple Ridge secondary.