British Columbia

UBC takes $50 housing fee from thousands it will likely never house

The president of UBC's Student Union says a mandatory $50 fee to apply for on-campus housing should be examined

Students applying for housing must pay $50 — but nearly 6,000 students are still on a wait list

The Walter H. Gage Residence at UBC, one of many student housing complexes available on campus.

Finding affordable housing has always been a challenge for university students.

However, as rental rates across Metro Vancouver continue to grow, a $50 fee to apply for on-campus housing at the University of British Columbia is drawing scrutiny from the president of UBC's student union.

The problem? Everyone has to pay the $50 fee, whether they receive housing or not.

And with nearly 6,000 students on UBC's housing wait list, it means plenty are paying for a service they never receive.  

"It's definitely not fair for the students that are paying the fee but aren't allocated a space in housing," said Ava Nasiri, president of the Alma Mater Society that represents all students at UBC's Point Grey campus. 

"We're most open with working with the administration to find a best solution for students, whether that's removing the fee as a whole, or you keep the $50 and get a refund. It's important to think about all the other options and ramifications."

There are approximately 11,000 beds for students on UBC's campus, and the university has 1,048 beds that are "brand new and opening this fall," said Andrew Parr, UBC's managing director of student housing.

That still leaves nearly 6,000 students who applied for housing in the annual lottery earlier this year. They're on the wait list and out $50 with nothing to show for it.

"We haven't heard of it being an issue. Obviously, people don't like to pay fees and not get value of out of what they pay. But there's a fair amount of administrative work that is required to mange the whole process," said Parr, who says the fee makes up 1.6 per cent of UBC Housing's revenue.  

"If we took that fee out, we'd have to find a way to recoup that somewhere else, and that would probably be through a slightly higher increase to the students that live here. The right place for that to be is in the application fee and to spread that out to everyone, even to those who unfortunately aren't successful."

No recourse for students

Under the Residential Tenancy Act, "a landlord must not charge a fee for accepting, reviewing or processing an application."

But students living on campus aren't subject to the act: in 2003, the provincial government passed a Bill exempting campus housing from the Act for all university and colleges in B.C. 

The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, which is the main advocacy group for Vancouver renters, declined comment because the issue falls outside its mandate.  

In addition, UBC isn't under municipal jurisdiction, leaving no recourse to change local bylaws. 

And while most post-secondary institutions are in the middle of communities, UBC's Point Grey Campus is surrounded by water on three sides and on the other — some of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the country: Dunbar and West Point Grey.

"It's an issue for all of Vancouver, but we're on the west side of Vancouver ... and students who don't live on campus are having to commute further and further, and that's not helpful for their experience," said Parr.

A student housing rights act?

The university is aiming to more than double the amount of units available for students this decade and guarantees a place in housing for all first-year students who want to live on campus.

However, Nasiri says the university could ensure student renters have more rights. In 2015, UBC decided to increase most rents on campus by 20 per cent, and she says a situation like that can't happen again.

"It's important for there to be to be strong consideration for some sort of students housing rights act," she said. 

"If the Residential Tenancy Act isn't going to apply, there does need to be some kind of legislation to protect those rights." 

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