British Columbia

Lower Mainland universities grapple with long wait lists for student housing

Lower Mainland universities are grappling with long wait lists for student housing, leaving many in the lurch to find homes off campus.

An all-time high of 6,000 students remain on waitlist for campus housing at UBC

SFU has 1621 beds available to students, ranging from $2788 to $3336 per four-month term at the Burnaby campus. (SFU)

Lower Mainland universities are grappling with long wait lists for student housing, leaving thousands of students in the lurch to find homes off campus in a competitive rental market. 

The University of British Columbia says they have reached an all-time high of 6,000 students on the housing wait list, nearly double the number from 2010. 

Simon Fraser University has a similar issue with 800 people on their wait list, even after cutting off applications two weeks earlier than usual this year. 

UBC says the increase in demand is due in part to affordability issues in Vancouver, more demand from international and older domestic students, and the growth of a vibrant community around the Point Grey campus. 

"The number of basement suites and houses that used to be rented to students now are not available, because they've been torn down and new homes have been built that don't have a rental capacity to them. And the rental rates off campus have increased significantly of course as well," said Andrew Parr, managing director of student housing for UBC.

'It's a big deal getting a place to live'

While UBC says it will have another 650 beds in 2019, and SFU has plans for another 480 beds by 2020, that doesn't help many students still struggling to find housing for the upcoming school year. 

After being on a wait list for student housing at UBC for four months, third year electrical engineering student Abhinav Garg says he has been forced to look elsewhere. 

"It's about the kind of stress that most of the students have to go through to get housing, because it's a big deal getting a place to live. You know if you're not sure about where you're going to live when school starts — how are you going to concentrate on your studies," said Garg, an international student from India.

UBC says they're the largest housing operator of any university in Canada with 11,800 beds, with single beds ranging from $650 to $1100 a month. (UBC)

Shaina Schafers is moving from Edmonton to complete her master's degree in public health at SFU in the fall, but she hasn't secured a place to live despite answering a dozen rental ads. She says she will have to stay with friends in the meantime.

"You want things to be set up when you're starting your studies, right. I'm just grateful I have someone to stay with and people to help me look and stuff while I'm there, otherwise it could be even more challenging," said Schafers.

The problem isn't confined to B.C.'s larger post-secondary institutions. 

​Capilano University just launched their student housing on July 15, and they've already received over 200 applications. 

Meanwhile, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Douglas College, Langara College, and Emily Carr University all lack student housing. 

Government intervention

B.C. Premier John Horgan tasked the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with creating new and affordable student housing by removing unnecessary rules. 

"I am working closely with my colleague, Minister Melanie Mark, on this commitment and look forward to announcing further details when a plan is in place," said Housing Minister Selina Robinson.

The Alliance of BC Students at the B.C. Legislature last September during their Where's the Housing campaign. (Patrick Meehan)

The Alliance of BC Students is calling for 21,300 new student residences over the next 10 years, and is asking the provincial government for $180 million to take care of the down payment for those developments. 

"You can only wait list so long, you need to find a place to live. And then it puts pressure on the surrounding communities," said Caitlin McCutchen, chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students.

The Alliance is also asking for a renter's rebate of $400 and stronger protections for renters.