Thousands of students lucky enough to get a bed began moving into on-campus housing at the University of British Columbia Saturday — while a record number are being forced to wait their turn.
Six thousand people are on the waitlist this year, hoping for a residency to open up at some point in the weeks and months ahead. That’s nearly double the number eight years ago, when 3,200 students were waitlisted.
Andrew Parr, managing director of student housing and hospitality services, says the university is struggling to grow its housing stock quickly enough to meet the demand.
WATCH: ‘Nano Pods’ could mark future of UBC student housing
“We need to continue to grow to meet the needs of the students,” Parr said. “Even though we’ve grown significantly, and we’ve invested half a billion dollars in student housing on this campus alone, we’re not keeping up.”
Parr says UBC has added 4,000 student beds to its Vancouver campus alone since 2011, including a 651-bed residence that opened this year.
That building hosts 71 of the university’s latest innovation: “Nano Pods,” which fit a bed, desk, bathroom and kitchenette into a 144-square-foot space.
Parr points out the units — which cost just $700 a month, as opposed to a traditional on-campus studio at about $1,050 a month — are a way to offer a wider range of affordability options.
“They’ve been very well-received to far,” he said. “We were trying to build and price them in a way that students don’t necessarily have the financial means can still live on campus.”
WATCH (Aug. 29, 2018): Returning post-secondary students face growing housing crunch
One student who calls a “Nano Pod” home, Hilton Nguyen, says the unit offers everything he needs.
“A lot of my friends are jealous,” he said. “It’s the biggest deal, because you save so much money.”
More “Nano Pods” may get built after UBC collects further feedback from tenants, including long-term happiness and quality of life.
“We anticipate it’s going to be positive and we’re planning for that,” he said.
Before that green light comes, Parr says two other housing projects are already in the works, including a 940-bed residence that will start construction later this fall, with an aim to open by 2021. Another residence containing 600 beds will follow.
That will add to the university’s current stock of 12,400 beds, which is the largest number for university-operated student housing in Canada.
UBC also has enough land available to build infrastructure for up to 18,000 more beds, Parr said, which he hopes will be enough to close the demand gap.
WATCH (Sept. 2, 2017): Affordable housing crisis impacts B.C. university students
“We know the academic and social experience of those who live on campus is more positive than those who commute,” he said.
Dr. Paul Kershaw, a professor at UBC’s school of population and public health and the founder of Generation Squeeze, says living off campus can add significantly to student stress as they try to keep up with high rents.
Those stresses can also get worse the closer to campus those students try to live.
“Around our major universities are some of the most expensive places for housing,” he said. “Think about what’s going on in Kitsilano and Dunbar and so forth. Those are some of the most challenging places to try and find rent.
“So then you’re moving further and further from where you actually study, and then you’re incurring transit costs.”
That’s why Parr says he and UBC is tackling the problem as quickly as it can.
“We’re continuing to invest and UBC is taking that very seriously,” he said.
—With files from Nadia Stewart and Sonia Deol