Calling it a win-win scenario, the provincial government announced funding for the construction of five new student housing buildings for B.C.’s Southern Interior.
The project will see buildings constructed of mass timber at Okanagan College campuses in Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm.
Kelowna and Vernon will each see two new buildings, with one in Salmon Arm. The new construction will create 376 affordable homes for post-secondary students.
According to the province, the number represents a 260 per cent increase in the total number of student beds available.
“Affordable housing is key to building strong, healthy communities. This new student housing will help students focus on their studies, and its mass-timber construction will create good jobs for local workers,” Premier John Horgan said in a press release.
“Our government remains committed to helping people get through the pandemic now while building an economic recovery that works for everyone. I am proud that this project will do both.”
The projects are expected to cost a total of $67.5 million and will consist of:
- Kelowna: two buildings, 216 beds, worth $36.4 million
- Vernon: one building, 100 beds, worth $18 million
- Salmon Arm: two buildings, 60 beds, worth $13.1 million
Of the $67.5-million project cost, $36.3 million comes from a provincial grant, $30.2 million from a provincial loan and $1 million from Okanagan College.
Construction is expected to start in the fall and be completed by the fall of 2023.
The homes will see varying combinations of single, double and quad suites.
The province says Okanagan College has no student housing in Vernon or Salmon Arm, but one building on the Kelowna campus houses 144 students.
“Students in Vernon and across the Okanagan will soon have affordable and sustainable housing close to school, so their focus can remain on their education and building a better life for themselves and their community,” said Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee.
“We are listening and responding to student housing concerns in the most affordable, innovative and environmentally sustainable way.”
Notably, the province says the Okanagan College project is expected to create more than 500 direct and indirect local jobs.
The province said since February 2018, it has provided funding for 2,816 student beds as part of a 10-year housing plan for B.C.
A board member for the Okanagan College Students’ Union, Evan Smith, called it good news.
“The OCSU is excited about the announcement on the investment of student housing, particularly in the region I live in,” said Smith.
“There are so few affordable, student-friendly housing options here. This is a much-needed and long-overdue improvement. It’s well known that the rental market in the Okanagan has been overpriced and at capacity for several years now, which has impacted thousands of students.
“Paying as much or more in rent per month as college tuition is not acceptable. We need a long-term solution for Okanagan College students to provide access to affordable housing while we complete our studies.”