Students struggle to find housing in red-hot rental market

Click to play video: 'Lining up to rent bachelor apartment'
Lining up to rent bachelor apartment
WATCH ABOVE: With the rental crisis in Vancouver making it difficult to impossible to find a place to live, ads for affordable rentals are generating long line-ups – Sep 1, 2016

A picture of dozens of students lined up outside a property hoping to be the next tenant of an $850-a-month suite says it all: finding affordable rental housing in Vancouver is next to impossible.

“It was absurd,” said third-year UBC student Dario Garousian, who was part of the crowd putting in their rental applications.

“I knew the rental market was bad… but I didn’t think it was that bad.”

He estimates 40 people were in line with him to view the bachelor suite.

Clearly, Garousian isn’t the only student struggling to find housing.

“Personally, I went and viewed four or five places before I found the place that I ended up staying in, and all of those times it ended up someone just outbidded me,” said Alex McGowan, another student.

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The pickings are slim. Two ads found on Craigslist show glorified closets being advertised as bedrooms for around $750 a month.

With the vacancy rate as low at 0.6 per cent, students have been hit hard by the housing shortage.

McGowan, who works for the Alliance of BC Students, says part of the issue is that the provincial government won’t allow universities to take on debt to build student housing.

“I’m hoping that they will change their mind as housing reaches bigger and bigger crisis levels,” said McGowan.

One expert on rental housing says B.C. needs thousands of new rental units each year to keep up with demand.

“We need anywhere from 5,500 to 6,000 new units of rental housing to be built in each of the next 10 years, and we’re just nowhere near that,” said David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC.

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UBC’s Director of Student Housing and Hospitality, Andrew Parr, says around 5,600 students are currently on the waitlist for campus housing.

The university provides 11,000 beds on campus for students, but a recently introduced mandate to guarantee housing for all first year students has pushed upper level students out of campus units.

Parr says the initiative to offer housing to all first year students was made because the university found that those who live on campus are more engaged and enjoy a fuller university experience.

A new residence building, Orchard Commons, will accommodate another 1,047 students. Contrary to some reports, Parr says the building is not exclusive to international students – a demographic that makes up 46 per cent of all campus residents.

The desire to win the campus housing lottery is based on more than just convenience; housing on campus is priced lower than most market housing in the area. First years pay between $630 and $830 a month, not including a meal plan, and upper year students pay between $850 and $1,050 for a room in a shared suite.

Two years ago, UBC was ranked the eighth most expensive university in Canada for campus housing, despite Vancouver’s position as the most unaffordable market in the country.

Several more housing projects are currently under development at UBC, including the 408-bed Brock Commons Student Residence, the 630-bed Gage South Student Residence, the 513-bed Ponderosa Commons, and the 350-bed Totem Park expansion.

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With files from Nadia Stewart

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