News / Vancouver

Student housing waitlists grow despite construction

Demand is increasing due to low rental vacancy and growing international student enrolment

UBC student Hanna Murray says many of her peers have trouble finding housing close to campus.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

UBC student Hanna Murray says many of her peers have trouble finding housing close to campus.

Attending university in Vancouver has its challenges but one of its most stressful experiences has nothing to do with studying.

The frantic back to school housing search has felt hopeless in recent years, said University of British Columbia grad student Hanna Murray.

“It is a combination of desperation and scouring Craigslist. It’s honestly just a lottery. It’s not very comforting,” she said.

“I don’t want to rely on a lottery.”

Murray, who also works at the Alliance of BC Students, currently lives one hour away from UBC where she is completing her Master’s degree in American history.

The 24-year old and her roommate found a two-bedroom ground level suite near Commercial Broadway Skytrain Station for $1,750 per month.

It was the closest to campus she could get without breaking the bank.

“It's not ideal. But living on campus or close to campus wasn’t feasible. Mostly because of cost,” said Murray.

But even those who sign up for on-campus housing may not get a spot.

UBC added 1,050 beds last year and 758 this summer, but there are still 6,000 students on the waitlist.

Growing enrolment and low vacancy rates, especially in the neighbourhoods surrounding the university, means the housing waitlist has doubled in the past six years despite the constant construction on campus.

“Here on the west side, the amount of rental units proximate to campus is not growing in any way. It may in fact be shrinking,” said Andrew Parr, managing director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services.

The university has also strived to recruit more international students in recent years. It has been successful, with international students at UBC residents now making up half of the population in UBC residences, up from a third, just four years ago, according to Parr.

Almost 12,000 students live on UBC’s campus in total.

Building more housing for its students is “a big commitment,” said Parr.

“UBC is in the midst of investing half a billion dollars in growing our student housing stock. Unless there is a change in the housing marketplace I think we will continue to see these pressures for the years to come.”

There are plans to build 650 more spaces in student housing by 2019.

Simon Fraser University is also ramping up its efforts to meet the demand for student housing with 480 new beds planned for 2020. Those lucky enough to find a spot in the residences this year moved in Tuesday but there are still 668 people on the waitlist.

This is the second year in a row that the university has had a significant waitlist and that trend is projected to continue, said director of Residence and Housing, Tracey Mason-Innes.

“In 2014 we did a housing master plan and the demand projection said we could double in the next 20 years.”

Universities that are building more campus housing are on the right track because it helps neighbourhoods throughout the city, says Alliance of BC Students chairperson Caitlin McCutchen.

“If they had student housing and on-campus housing, it would take the pressure off the surrounding communities. Students are taking up more of that space right now.”

But smaller schools, like Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where McCutchen studies political science, don’t have the funds to build housing, she said.

That’s why her organization is calling on the provincial government to remove red tape preventing universities from borrowing money in order to build housing.

The new BC NDP government has committed to “removing unnecessary rules that prevent universities and colleges from building affordable student housing” in a mandate letter addressed to Housing Minister Selina Robinson.

This story has been corrected from an earlier version which stated UBC had added 350 beds this summer and invested a billion dollars into housing.

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