British Columbia

Housing crunch pushes Vancouver students toward off-campus dorms

Thousands of students are on waiting lists to get into student housing on both UBC and SFU campuses. The unmatched demand has pushed students into Vancouver's dog-eat-dog rental market.

New student housing complex up to 70 per cent full, more buildings on the way.

International students Yoojin Lee and Dagoberto Vargas attend an open house for GEC Pearson — a newly developed student housing complex on Cambie Street. (Jon Hernandez/CBC News)

International student Dagoberto Vargas has spent the last year living in tight quarters.

The 27-year-old travelled from Mexico to study marketing in Vancouver. But he quickly found himself scrambling to find a place to live when he arrived in the city.

"I was calling 10 different places each day," said Vargas, who ultimately found a two bedroom apartment — that he shares with five other people.

Thousands of students are on waiting lists to get into student housing on both UBC and SFU campuses. The unmatched demand has pushed students like Vargas into Vancouver's dog-eat-dog rental market.

And its also given some developers the opportunity to cash in on a growing market.

Students at the GEC Pearson must stay a minimum of 30 days and up to two years. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Dorm demand

Global Education City is one of a handful of companies that are tapping into the student rental market. The organization is the sister company to Sprott Shaw Community College, which has 17 campuses across the province.

"We saw the big problem for students finding a place to live, so we divested into education real estate," said Toby Chu, the group's president and CEO.

GEC has opened several student housing complexes across Vancouver that vary in rental rates. Its latest building — GEC Pearson on South Cambie — opened for reservations in April and is currently 70 per cent reserved.

The group held an open house on Wednesday, with several students — including Vargas — looking to get in.

Two bunk beds in a small studio suite mark one of the lower-cost options for students at GEC Pearson. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Chu says the market has been tough on students like Vargas.

"It's really difficult to find places to rent [in Vancouver], especially affordable ones," said Chu. "You can imagine that for students, with a tighter budget, for international students from abroad [who] don't know the area — it can be really difficult."

The space has a variety of rooms furnished with bunk beds. Rents vary from $700 to $2,000 per month for a bed, depending on how much personal space a student is looking for. There are over 310 beds across two buildings.

Kitchens are located in the shared living areas of each room. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Students must rent units for a minimum of 30 days and can stay up to two years depending on their status as a student, Chu said.

Development woes

There are seven more similar buildings under development across Metro Vancouver. Getting the GEC Pearson building approved and built took over four years.

According to the City of Vancouver, thousands of development applications have clogged up its rezoning process over the last several years.

The bulk of the applications running through the rezoning process are "not appropriate to local needs and incomes" of Vancouver residents, according to the city's housing plan.

"We'd really like to see the government encourage more student housing [and] rental supply," said Chu. "A lot of developers are slowing down developments. They're not so much interested to build rental housing because it ties down capital."

The City of Vancouver is in the midst of a 10-year housing plan. The plan's key actions include creating more accommodations for students, as well as streamlining the permitting process for purpose-built rental housing.

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