How student housing could solve Vancouver's rental crisis

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Kenneth Chan Oct 25, 2016 4:04 pm 2,350

If post-secondary institutions in Metro Vancouver were to up their game with building on-campus student housing, the region’s current rental housing shortage could be resolved.

That’s according to the Alliance of BC Students, which says that if post-secondary institutions built enough housing for students that request on-campus accommodations, it could free up as much as 13,000 units for the general rental housing market.

To put that into perspective, that’s nearly three times the City of Vancouver’s stated goal to stimulate the construction of 5,000 new rental units by 2021, and help to combat vacancy rates which currently stand at just 0.8% in Vancouver.

Easing the burden on Vancouver’s rental market

“Post-secondary institutions, universities, and colleges have not been able to build student housing in this province in the way that they can in most other provinces and in a way that they should be able to,” Alex McGowan, chair of the Alliance of BC Students, told Daily Hive “And that has caused a lack of student housing, which means the students are living elsewhere.”

“What we’ve found is that there are so many post-secondary students that if we were to house just a small percentage of them on campus we’d actually significantly easing the burden they’d place on the housing market.”

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The figures are based on what the group has been told by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in addition to estimates by other local institutions such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Capilano University that currently do not have any student housing.

“Institutions like Kwantlen and Capilano have not even been allowed to look at the concept of student housing,” he said. “They don’t have estimates themselves.”

Image: UBC Public Affairs

Construction continues on the Tall Wood Building at the new UBC Brock Commons residence. (Photo by: UBC Public Affairs)

Addressing the student shortage

The Alliance of BC Students estimates that at least 10% of any institution’s student population could live on campus.

Based on data retrieved by Daily Hive, UBC’s Vancouver-Point Grey campus already exceeds this threshold and has one of the largest student housing capacities in the country with approximately 23% of students living in student housing.

However, even with about 12,000 beds – including 1,047 beds from Orchard Commons, completed this month – the university is still falling behind with meeting demand.

The university currently has a housing guarantee for first-year students, but the problem remains for upper year students. Nearly 6,000 UBC students were on the wait list for student housing before the start of the current semester, forcing them to look for accommodations in the region’s rental housing market.

Last year, UBC completed the final phase of its 1,150-bed Ponderosa Commons residence, and construction is underway on two new student residences. The Tall Wood Building at the new Brock Commons will add 400 beds, and Gage South on top of the new UBC bus loop and exchange will add another 650 beds.

UBC added 2,800 student beds on campus from 2010 to 2016, and a further 3,000 beds will be completed from 2017 to 2020.

Meanwhile, Simon Fraser University has just 1,624 student housing beds, including the recently completed 68-bed satellite student residence across the street from Victory Square in downtown Vancouver. There are plans to double the university’s total housing capacity to 3,250 by 2035 through the construction of seven new housing buildings atop Burnaby Mountain.

CIBT Education Group, the operator of a number of business, technical, and language schools in the region including Sprott Shaw College, has a goal of building up to 5,000 new student housing beds for its students in the Lower Mainland

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It acquired and renovated downtown Vancouver’s 17-storey Viva Suites hotel for $37 million last year and converted it into a student housing complex with 230 beds.

And just last month, the company revealed its plans for a 50-storey education campus and student residence across from Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus. The $230-million project includes space for educational institutions, student amenities, and 750 beds through long-term student residences and a short-term stay student hotel.

Image: CIBT Education Group

Artistic rendering of CIBT Education’s planned 50-storey education campus and student residence in Surrey. (Credit: CIBT Education Group)

University student housing across Canada

University of British Columbia – Point Grey Campus

  • Number of international students: 12,117
  • Total number of students: 52,721
  • Number of student housing beds: 11,000
  • Students housed in student housing: 20.9%

Simon Fraser University

  • Number of international students: 5,500
  • Total number of students: 30,000
  • Number of student housing beds: 1,624
  • Students housed in student housing: 5.4%

University of Victoria

  • Number of international students: 3,775
  • Total number of students: 22,000
  • Number of student housing beds: 2,200
  • Students housed in student housing: 10%

University of Calgary

  • Number of international students: 6,000
  • Total number of students: 31,950
  • Number of student housing beds: 2,824
  • Students housed in student housing: 11%

University of Alberta – Edmonton campuses

  • Number of international students: 6,500
  • Total number of students: 36,830
  • Number of student housing beds: 4,997
  • Students housed in student housing: 14.6%

University of Ottawa

  • Number of international students: 5,000
  • Total number of students: 40,000
  • Number of student housing beds: 4,400
  • Students housed in student housing: 11%

Western Ontario University

  • Number of international students: 3,200
  • Total number of students: 28,864
  • Number of student housing beds: 5,400
  • Students housed in student housing: 18.7%

University of Toronto – St. George Campus

  • Number of international students: 13,000
  • Total number of students: 59,434
  • Number of student housing beds: 6,572
  • Students housed in student housing: 11%

University of Waterloo

  • Number of international students: 6,600
  • Total number of students: 34,040
  • Number of student housing beds: 5,300
  • Students housed in student housing: 19.4%

Universite de Montreal

  • Number of international students: 5,530
  • Total number of students: 49,597
  • Number of student housing beds: ~1,200
  • Students housed in student housing: 2.4%

McGill University

  • Number of international students: 10,206
  • Total number of students: 39,988
  • Number of student housing beds: ~4,000
  • Students housed in student housing: 10%

Concordia University

  • Number of international students: 6,959
  • Total number of students: 43,634
  • Number of student housing beds: 910
  • Students housed in student housing: 2.1%

Laval University

  • Number of international students: 5,600
  • Total number of students: 42,500
  • Number of student housing beds: 2,300
  • Students housed in student housing: 5.4%

*Data set does not include students from other areas of the institution’s province or from other areas of Canada as they were not readily available. The total number of students includes both full-time and part-time students as not all institutions were able to provide separate figures.


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Kenneth Chan
National Features Editor at Daily Hive, the evolution of Vancity Buzz. He covers local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation and infrastructure, and the travel industry. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]dailyhive.com

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