The continuation of assistance for the purchase of housing is positive, but the suggestion that it should only be for tenure track faculty is an outrage. This university operates on the backs of sessional and permanent non-tenure faculty and to exclude them is iniquitous.
However, on another note, the plan appears to try to limit the sad practice of faculty & staff buying supported units only to become landlords or to flip the units. Stopping this practice is very positive as it is exploitation at a dramatic level.
It seems you could go to outrageous lengths to try and make housing affordable at UBC and Vancouver or you could bring UBC to places where housing is already affordable. This second option would not work for everyone but having a satellite campus in say Squamish or Pemberton would be appealing to many.
I agree with many others here that attracting and retaining the best faculty should be a top priority. The willingness and ability to invest in the best faculty is one of the defining characteristics of the world’s top universities.
The limiting step in recruitment and retention at UBC appears to be the high cost of living. Fortunately, the university and the Board of Governors have the resources and power to overcome this limitation.
Substantial efforts were taken to increase the amount of 1-2 bedroom rental units, and this has likely moderately reduced the barrier in recruiting young faculty. This was a positive factor in my recruitment, for example. However, to significantly reduce the housing barrier to attracting and retaining faculty, something must be done for faculty with growing families and/or the desire to own property. The University has a substantial advantage compared to other universities in similar circumstances. It has land in a highly desirable location that can support housing for faculty. Large expanses of housing are currently being built on this land for non-university buyers. This appears to be a decent investment of university resources, and I have been told that it increased the endowment. However, it should be clear that there is a more sound investment strategy—investing in faculty. Investing in successful faculty produces positive returns in many ways, including bringing funds directly into the university through grants, as well as from students (i.e. international tuition) and alumni (donations) who value the higher level of education provided by the best faculty.
I have a few minor suggestions, along with my general suggestion that UBC devote more resources to assisting faculty with the cost of living in Vancouver.
These suggestions have been proposed by others, or may even already be in practice to some extent:
-Skytrain access to UBC
-No-cost land lease as long as a faculty member resides there, with lease costs due if the property or apartment becomes occupied without a faculty member.
-Consider university support even if it is taxable.
-Co-ownership of market and/or non-market housing between the faculty member and the university. For example, UBC and the faculty member may split the cost of property 50/50 and also split the amount when sold.
In this way UBC is investing both in on-campus real estate and its faculty at the same time.
I was delighted to read previous two comments which amplify some of the points I made earlier regarding the existing housing developments on campus. These observations beautifully illustrate how UBC policy of building Lexus communities on campus while its own faculty and staff are struggling to find adequate housing just does not make any sense. A sensible step at this point would be to place an immediate moratorium on all campus housing development until a sensible plan is in place, one that will focus on resolving the existing crisis and not on maximizing profits.
Imagine this. Twenty years ago the housing development on campus was just starting. Even then, as Doug Bonn recounts in one of the previous posts, single-family homes in the area were out of reach for most junior faculty and condos were quickly becoming so as well. Imagine now we had a visionary at the helm who would say: OK we have all this land at our disposal: let’s build a few luxury towers and use the proceeds to develop affordable and sustainable housing for faculty and staff, maybe in a 1:2 ratio between luxury and faculty/staff. We would not have housing crisis on our hands today.
Unfortunately we had no visionary at the helm in 1990 so we now have Lexus communities and a housing crisis. There is still a good deal of land left on UBC campus though. And there is nothing that should stop us from using proceeds from the luxury condos already built to start building affordable housing for faculty and staff. Only the will to do this appears to be missing.
I just arrived to UBC and am a brand new faculty member on campus. I also went to the housing meeting. I knew before coming to UBC that housing was a problem, but I didn’t fully realize the extent of it until this meeting when I saw the level of frustration. I think when you are on the job market, you can’t realize the degree of the problem because you are paying more attention to just getting a good job. They should post the video they were taking at the meeting online, so job candidates can watch it to get a better picture. I think that would only be fair to us. Can that be arranged???
Like most of the responses here, I left that meeting with the clear impression that UBC is at least 5 to 10 years away from doing anything major (with perhaps a few minor assistances in the next few years) to address the housing issue. Its pretty clear to me that the situation is hopeless and I agree that the neighborhood they are building on South Campus is nothing I would ever want to buy into even if I could. Its just bizarre over there!! I actually took pictures to sent to my colleagues at other universities because no one believes me that UBC uses their land to create sterile private neighborhoods full of luxury cars and Louis Vuitton hand bags. They are as shocked and confused as I was when I first found out.
On a bright note. What I found encouraging by the housing meeting was to stay productive in publishing and to keep my CV updated to go back on the job market when I do start to hit the housing stress. I certainly don’t want to get to the point of being filled with the anger, anxiety, and frustration of some of the speakers at the meeting. Thankfully, I REALLY like my department at UBC and so spending a couple years in Vancouver should be a pleasant and productive time. And perhaps by getting an offer somewhere else, I can leverage a retention package that will enable me to stay.
I would be very interested to hear from others what retention packages have been offered to faculty to stay.
1. Occupy UBC Market Housing
January 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink
I meant to say above that I saw a deluge of expensively dressed young women AND men at an event for a new luxury market-housing building on South Campus today.
2. Occupy UBC Market Housing
January 26, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
A TALE OF TWO CAMPUSES
It was interesting to me to read about the forum. I am glad people of goodwill are working on the housing problems at UBC.
But the time for talking and studies is over — it’s really too late for anything but major action. Some UBC faculty have waited 3 years or more to get off waiting lists into faculty housing. Today on South Campus I saw a deluge of very expensively dressed young women and men in very expensive cars looking at luxury condos (one new building is actually marketed as “excellent for short or longterm investment”), while UBC faculty are still waiting to get into Dahlia and Magnolia Houses (the only 2 new faculty buildings to go up recently on South Campus).
I guess it’s more important for the developer, Adera, to finish buildings to sell to investors at the UBC campus than for UBC faculty to be ensured of a roof over their heads. (Anyone try renting in Vancouver recently? Between basement suites, amateur landlords, speculators waiting to flip or sell a house out from under you — good luck!)
The housing situation in Vancouver and at UBC is simply a giant “Screw you” to those who have trouble affording housing, including UBC faculty and staff. The provincial government could care less, City Council could care less (so long as both entities are getting their coffers filled with development permits and transaction-cost taxes!). The Canadian banking and real-estate industries are leading Canadian denizens to financial ruin. And UBC has been remarkably oblivious, hapless, and hypocritical. I honestly have come to feel I live in a madhouse of a city. (Actually, Bedlam might be better than the current rental I’m in.)
I suggest a massive strike by UBC faculty and staff over the housing issue, one that would involve occupying empty suites on campus. I don’t know why UBC faculty and staff have been so passive. People around the world have been marching and striking for better housing. Why are people so timid here? Bold action is needed at every level.
If anyone wants information on where the Vancouver housing market is headed, you can find some knowledgeable and sane commenters (not all qualify, unfortunately) at a blog called VREAA (Vancouver Real Estate Anecdote Archive) Vancouver’s RE bubble is going to burst. Get ready, UBC! Maybe some of those investors who are going to flee could turn over their apartments to people who actually have to work for you!
I’m the retired tax lawyer who spoke at the HAP forum two days ago. The following is taken from an email that I sent to Nassif afterwards. It expands upon the comments I made.
“Based on Lisa Colby’s comments, it sounds as if the tax treatment of housing assistance is an important consideration in the development of the HAP. However, Lisa made statements about taxable benefits that were rather surprising. If the tax treatment is indeed a relevant consideration, then you should seek advice from UBC’s tax lawyers.
One statement that caught my attention is that as long as rental rates are below market by no more than about 20%, then there is no taxable benefit. That is certainly not the law, and I can’t imagine that the CRA has such a position. Nor can I imagine that UBC would fail to comply with its obligation to report taxable benefits on the basis that the CRA probably won’t go after anyone for a mere 20%.
What is more likely is that there are negative factors associated with the rental units that justify taking the position that market rental rates for the units are less than they would be without the factors. The negative factors could be such things as a large student population living in the building or nearby, an undesirable location for the building, etc. In this case, the reduced rates are market rates, and hence there is no taxable benefit. If I am right that this is what is really happening, then the significance of the 20% is probably that it is regarded as the largest discount that can be applied to reflect the negative factors.
Another statement that surprised me was that if there is a taxable benefit, then the faculty or staff member will be worse off than if no assistance is provided. In essence, this statement is saying that a taxable benefit will be taxed at a rate in excess of 100%. Clearly this is wrong. If a person who pays tax at a marginal rate of 30% is provided with a taxable benefit of $10,000, the person is still ahead by $7,000. Possibly Lisa was thinking that a 20% discount would not result in a taxable benefit, but a 30% discount would be fully taxable. That is not correct.
The constraint mentioned by Lisa that the options must be designed so that there is no taxable benefit makes no sense given what your Task Group is seeking to achieve. This is unduly restrictive. It is hard to imagine that such options would come anywhere near solving the housing problem. The flip side of there being no taxable benefit is that UBC is not providing any assistance. If it were, there would be a benefit. The logical way to proceed, it would seem to me, would be to look at what faculty and staff in various income brackets can be expected to pay for housing, and then make such housing available. If this requires a 50% discount from market, and results in a taxable benefit, then so be it. UBC may have to discount further to allow for the tax that is payable. It is not realistic to think that the housing problem can be solved without any money flowing to the CRA.
I should mention that from a tax point of view, interest-free loans are a particularly attractive benefit at the moment. For the last three years, the imputed interest rate used to determine the taxable benefit has been 1%. Unfortunately, this favourable treatment cannot be relied on for the long term, since the interest rate is linked to Treasury Bill rates, and will rise when the TBill rates rise.
I wish you success in devising a HAP that will make a real difference to the very serious problem that UBC is facing. And I’d encourage you to think of bolder options than what I heard yesterday.”
I must say I came away from the forum very discouraged. I was sitting at a table with junior members of my department and it seems pretty clear to me that I am going to lose some of them, or at best get caught up in very expensive retention negotiations. I did not get the impression that those who are looking after campus planning and UBC Properties Trust etc. actually realize how much trouble we’re getting into on this issue. When I told Carl Hansen, who spoke today, that this was at least getting recognized as a problem finally, his response was “It’s not a problem, it’s a crisis.”
This was in fact a problem as far back as the mid-90s when I was hired. When I first looked at mortgages, they I couldn’t even get close to affording the then new condos in Hampton Place. It took me years to get into the market, and at the cost of living an hour away from UBC. That’s two hours a day i don’t spend doing things for UBC. In the 90s, UBC could have entered into co-ownership of properties on the west side (a model used by some US schools I believe) and by now would have a small fortune in real estate share in the neighborhoods around us. Now I suppose that model looks like a risky proposition, so we are constrained to work within the confines of UBC land. The co-ownership/lease proposals coming onto the table might be a step in the right direction, if they really do bring things to a cost young faculty with families can afford. However, I do have the same worry as George that there are players and motivations here that are driving things in another direction and blocking some avenues for solving this.
Thanks for helping push this to the foreground Nassif.
Like most of the commenters below I came back disappointed from the housing forum yesterday.
None of the presented options, which at their best offer around 20 percent discount for renting or owning on campus, is helpful to me and my family.
I appreciate UBC administration worrying about my taxes, while setting up 20 discount in renting Village Gate Homes, talking about taxable benefit limitations. However, financially, it will make it way easier for young faculty if the rent would be 40-50 percent discount and would be considered a taxable benefit. I would really like to encourage thinking about a deeper discount while renting from UBC.
I also second all comments by Thomas Tannert. I am in a precisely same boat as Thomas and couldn’t state it clearer.
Particularly, I would like to support his comment #5 about extending Housing Assistance Program for renting purposes.
The options presented yesterday are indeed disappointing and I hope that other venues, expressed by attendees yesterday will be explored. If not, UBC is going to loose a significant number of very talented and dedicated professionals!
To be frank, I think only an “occupy UBC” type of movement may eventually capture the attention of UBC’s top admins and executives. Imagine what could happen if faculty/staff/postdocs and students start occupy the campus with tents and messages like
“3 kids sleeping in a tiny bedroom @2000/month”
“2 kids sleeping in a moldy basement @1000/month”
“family on a 6 months lease”
“fear I won’t be able to finance my retirement”
It occurred to me that perhaps the whole discussion about market value and 20% and taxable benefits all has to do with what one really claims as the market value. I wonder where the numbers come from and if one takes the remote location of UBC into account? In fact if UBC were to limit the housing sales to UBC personel with the condition that the housing has to be sold upon leaving UBC to a UBC employee or that UBC purchases it back for a predetermined “inflation rate” and puts it up for sale the market value would be very low because it would discourage speculators. This market value in fact could easily reduce the price by 40 or 50% I would think and there would be no problem with taxable benefits.
I sort of question if UBC development is not trying to make the market value as high as possible for accounting purposes and so is inflating the housing problem considerably. I may be wrong of course.
Thanks for your concerns over the affordability of housing in Vancouver and using your time to try and meet the outstanding need for housing by our faculty, staff and students. I absolutely support you in these efforts.
But in pursuing this laudable goal at UBC, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the Board of Governors must address the social infrastructure that goes along with it. I spent the good part of a term along with many of my fellow parents from January to June 2008, trying to save our fully enrolled local school (Queen Elizabeth Annex) from being closed and sold to the highest bidder by the Vancouver School Board for the express purpose of financing two new schools at UBC. Since UBC is both the developer and regulator (unlike most other cases of housing development where the developer needs to answer to a city government who will ask the necessary questions at to how such social and educational needs are going to be met before developments are approved), I fear if the BOG doesn’t put the hard questions to those engaged in such development as to whether the necessary childcare spaces and schools are going to be provided for the new families coming to live at UBC and UEL, once again housing will be built and the families that move into them will simply not have spaces available to them; and their children will end up being bussed, as dozens of children have been for years from UBC to either Queen Mary’s or Queen Elizabeth School or Southlands School, simply because nobody addressed these very real needs in advance of building the homes to house them.
Most disturbing about our own experiences with this issue was the tendency on the part of the three big players (BC government, Vancouver School Board and UBC) to play chicken with each other as to who was going to pay for the necessary expansion of school facilities, holding off on making any commitment in the hopes that somebody else would make the first move. So we went from the VSB to UBC to the BC government making our case for why the sale of public land and a fully enrolled school in order to finance UBC schools made no sense and getting nowhere. We even met with the Deputy Minister of Education for an hour to express our concerns. Ultimately it was this meeting that saved our school because the government decided to step in, but only because their plan to turn half day kindergarten into full day kindergarten along with seismic upgrades at local schools meant they actually desperately needed QEA to remain open (which indeed it has been used to capacity and beyond in the years since with additional portables being brought in to support the expanded student population). But if it hadn’t been for the provincial government stepping in at the last minute (the night before), UBC would have stood by while a local school was closed in order to finance the supports necessary to its own property development plans.
One last point to also consider was the enormous animosity created between legitimately frustrated parents/families at UBC/UEL and those living in Dunbar – we became the target of their frustrations as we sought to defend our school and the community that had developed around it. We were called elitist, selfish and simply insensitive to the broader public good of people living at UBC who did not have access to a local primary school. The number of times that I had to talk parents down from a growing animosity towards UBC and its seemingly cavalier attitude towards property development with little if any consideration of the negative impact it was having on neighbouring communities was equally challenging.
As it stands right now, the VSB is building a new high school that will accommodate 800 students scheduled to open in Sept. 2012, and will transform the current high school into a primary school that will accommodate 800 students. The VSB will still have the existing Uhill primary to accommodate 400 students. The gist of this can be found at http://www.vsb.bc.ca/district-facilities/projects/ubc-secondary-national-rearch-council-nrc-site(bottom of page lists schools and numbers). There is some reference to a third school being built but without any indication of when it might be built or how it is going to be financed (deja vu). The question that HAS to be asked is whether these three schools can absorb not only the existing number of students but all of those who are yet to come and when and how the third elementary school will be built if that is needed to absorb additional numbers. UBC needs to step up to the plate here. The same argument can be made for childcare (although the impact on neighbouring communities resulting from decisions made by the VSB clearly does not apply in the same way).
I apologize for the length of this post but feel very strongly about this issue since I was so deeply torn at the time between the actions of my employer (UBC) who I tried to defend in my school community and the fact that what it was doing worked against the best interests of my child and other children in the Dunbar community who deserved to go to their local school and not have it sold off as a private commodity in the ongoing fight between these three goliaths over who was to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support the ongoing development at UBC.
I have a series of comments, some of them echoing what is well known, others hopefully contributing to extending the discussion.
1) Housing affordability on campus
This term is an oxymoron when referring to buying options, as the current housing prices on campus are nowhere near to being affordable for almost all staff and junior faculty members. And 20% below something that is multiple times beyond financial possibilities is still unaffordable. NONE of the solutions being studied at this point makes owning affordable.
2) Creating campus community
One argument that the UBC administration repeatedly makes to defend commercial housing on campus is that it creates the kind of community that will make campus more attractive for staff and faculty to life on. I live on South campus; the kind of “Lexus” community that is developing there is absolutely NOT what staff and faculty would chose to live in if there was another option.
3) Below market prices for UBC staff/faculty rental units:
The UBC administration claims that rent for those units is 20% below market price and always cites $2500/1000sqf as a reference. The units in the new staff/faculty buildings cost significantly more than what a 20% discount would end up being. And what remains of the “below market rent” is more than offset by the “below market quality” of the units in terms of finishing, appliances and quality of construction.
4) Affordability and space for families:
A specific dilemma exists for staff and faculty with children. While larger families require more space, they often have less money to afford that space. In my case, 45% of my net income (as assistant professor) goes into rental for a 1000sqf apartment that is already too small for my family of five.
5) Housing Assistance Program
The current program is severely flawed. The amount offered does only help very few faculty members to cross the line between being able to afford buying or not. It is nowhere near enough to help cross that line for housing options on campus. The 7 year cut-off seems absolutely arbitrary. And ultimately, if the program is called Housing Assistance (and not home owner assistance): why is it limited to buying? To really assist with housing and creating a sustainable community on campus, the program must be extended towards rental options.
When I arrived at UBC several years ago, it felt like a community. We accepted an offer here because we dreamed of living on a green campus.
That community is dead. One after the other, the pockets of life, running children, outdoor gatherings in the summer, have vanished. Trees are replaced by condos. Traffic has increased 3 fold. I do not believe in any UBC’s claim of protecting the environment. I became surrounded with people I could not communicate with (no common language) and who do not seem affiliated to the university. No more chats at the playground. Some classes at the community centre are now taught in a language I do not speak. I feel left out. My children ostracized themselves. Lately, I was really hurt by the heated debate around the new hospice. I meet bitter faculty and staff who cannot afford more than a tiny living space that is impacting their sanity. I lost all trust, and even respect, for the President and the Board. Money is the dominant value. If I had known, I would have accepted another job offer. I lost all interest in staying on campus.
We have been saving for a home, but could never catch up with the market. Now we are past the 7 years limit for UBC support… We lost all hope to ever own a house, and are seriously concerned about how to save for retirement. It seems UBC, as well as the provincial government, are playing the real estate card without any concern for the long term consequences on the community. I know too many peers who feel really angry, and this concerns me.
Thank you very much for organising this. It is very unfortunate that I’ll be teaching at this time of the day, but I’m directly concerned by the housing issue. Having a family of four with 2 kids, one teenager and the other about to be, finding a house in Vancouver is so difficult that it forced us to stay on campus, for a few years in the faculty housing first, and then in the student housing (a fortunate possibility because my wife was going back to studies). We only recently (last month) moved in town to find a decent place, renting it for 3000/month, and hoping it won’t get sold in 6 months…
It sounds totally odd that with the family income we have we cannot afford buying anything in town, and had to fall back to student housing!!
Although I understand that UBC has no responsibility in the distorted housing market in Vancouver/BC (I mean the bubble), nor in the policies of CHMC, UBC has however a large responsibility as to why faculty have difficulties finding a home. In fact, I must say that the actions taken by UBC over the past years make me seriously doubt that UBC has the power, or even the will, to do anything about the situation. I short, despite the nice announcements being made now, I do not trust them anymore. Let me mention two specific stories:
1- About 8 years ago, UBC advertised and started new housing development on campus as being a major long term project which would make our campus “green”, so UBC people could live on campus if they wanted to (with many units reserved for faculty), and with large green spaces preserved. What we have seen is a massive construction of condos, with beautiful treed area being cut (and it is not over, e.g. sitka…). The cost of apartments and houses was so extravagant (in fact many of them were not that far from the private market prices) that most people who could afford buying them were non UBC people. Consequence: the campus is not greener: UBC people still continue commuting to work, and we have lost many trees and forest area!
2- the units “built for the faculty” were not protected against the irrational behaviour of the housing market in Vancouver. Their value followed the market and consequently, after five years, the units went back to the private market, detrimental to UBC people who have lost their forests and can still not find decent home.
These two facts alone outline that either UBC is either incompetent in evaluating the long term consequences of its land management decisions, or maybe simply does not care. For this reason, I have strong doubts that whatever happens now in trying to fix the housing issue will lead to any solution that benefits UBC faculty and staff. My trust in the system is broken, and I fell that it won’t make any difference whether or not I attend the meeting tomorrow anyway.
And to echo Ian Afflect’s post on the web, I can also report a story that the postdoc I’m trying to recruit for september 2012 already told me that if he gets the funding, he will work for me remotely, but he will not live in Vancouver: he has a family of four too, with 2 small children and they will stay on Montreal…I told him it is fine with me because I totally understand the situation…
Yes I agree with Ian that this is obviously a really big problem! … and … almost choked up when they noticed the prices since they are in regions where the prices are considerably lower and so will not have a lot of capital gain. In fact they will probably have a substantial loss because of the fall in the US market. I should mention that one of them as you know went to Stanford and also then the housing was certainly a very important factor. Stanford has a policy to provide on campus free standing houses for a rather cheap price since the property is not part of the deal and when you leave the sale price is determined by Stanford and lags well behind the open market.
I sure hope that something can be done about the housing problem.
Nassif- Two things happened to me in the last week which made me even more
convinced that UBC is going to have a huge problem regarding housing for
new faculty members and that we should do something about it. Firstly, I
heard that typical BC Property Assessments for Vancouver West went up by
an astounding 40% in one year, from 2011 to 2012. Secondly, I was talking
to a candidate for a senior faculty position in our department in
experimental condensed matter physics, connected to the Quantum Materials
Institute. This is intended to be a very high level appointment for a
senior researcher with a top international research profile in a very
important field. Naturally, our conversation turned to housing. The
candidate figures he could sell his house in the U.S. for around $500,000.
I didn’t even want to mention the topic of what houses cost in
Vancouver.It seems to me that we have little hope of attracting a top
candidate without offering him or her substantial assistance with buying a
I strongly support the efforts of UBC to make housing on campus more affordable and would like to make the following suggestions to The Community Planning Task Force of the UBC Board of Governors as it pursues the UBC Housing Action Plan.
1. Monetizing UBC Land and Using Endowment Funds for Cross-subsidies – UBC is land owner and landlord on the UBC campus. One way to make housing affordable is to extract funds from the value of land and use the proceeds to cross-subsidize housing for faculty, staff and students. Such cross-subsidy schemes are widely used in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and other countries where housing has been made quite affordable. UBC has already “monetized” land parcels it owns by leasing it to purchasers of market housing. Part of the proceeds from these leases that currently go into the university endowment fund can be used to cross-subsidize housing for students, faculty and staff.
2. Adjusting Land Values – At present, the assessed value of a residential property in the UBC campus that is leased for 99 years is divided into land (67.4%) and building (32.6%) as set by BC Assessment. The land, however, is owned by UBC and is subject to its discretionary action. UBC should be able to adjust the value of the land it owns downwards in the case of housing allocated to faculty members, staff and students. That will lower the assessed value of the property and make it more affordable. This approach is widely used in China and Vietnam where the land is owned by the state and constitutes the main contribution of government to housing provision that helps to ensure affordability.
3. Absorbing the Cost of Public Services – Assuming that UBC will be able to adjust the value of its land downward to make housing more affordable, the cost of the “building” itself (about a third of assessed value) can also be reduced significantly. The main problem in housing, actually, is not the house structure itself but the services needed such as potable water, sanitation, energy, security, solid waste collection and disposal, and the distance between the dwelling and the work place, shopping centres, leisure places, etc., that add to the cost of transport. To make housing in the UBC campus more affordable, UBC can absorb some of these public services costs. For example, the UNA as the municipal-like governance mechanism on campus has already launched programs to absorb some of these public services costs by paying for extra security services, recycling, composting, community centres, parks, playgrounds, athletic playing fields, student bus services, day care, etc. As these costs are shifted from individual households to the governance mechanism, the cost of housing to residents is reduced.
4. Absorbing financing costs – Because housing is a lumpy and long term cost, home purchasers have to rely on financial institutions for mortgage, insurance and other services. In many countries, housing for specific groups is made more affordable by the state assuming some of those finance costs (through public pension funds as in Singapore, the housing bank in Brazil, the Government Service Insurance System in the Philippines, etc.). About 85% of the housing stock in Singapore is owned by the state and the main financing institution is the Provident Fund that uses the resources of public pension funds to finance housing. In our community, UBC has already agreed to build student dorms using resources from the endowment fund earned from market housing. Maybe, it can use the faculty and staff pension fund to help finance housing. It can take advantage of existing Canadian laws and provide matching funds for schemes such as those allowing “loans” from RRSPs for a down payment on a mortgage. It can also grant benefits that, hopefully, will not be considered taxable by Revenue Canada.
5. Co-development – UBC, through UBC Properties Trust, has experimented with the co-development model where UBCPT, acting as the developer, is able to reduce the cost of a residential unit for faculty members and staff by cutting out the profit of developers. One mistake in the scheme, however, has been in allowing purchasers of co-development housing units to sell the units in the open market after five years (the high cost of market housing in Greater Vancouver gives co-development purchasers a sizable profit after five years). After the review of the scheme, the co-development model may be restored without the option to sell at fair market value – at most, the selling price should only be adjusted according to the consumer price index. Rent controlled units, such as in New York City, can be a viable model for this approach.
6. Build more affordable student dorms and rental units – At present, there are rental facilities on campus for only about 8,500 students. UBC can build more such units using endowment funds and reduce costs to students. The “secondary suites” elements in the market housing projects should also be increased. Consideration should also be given to “mixed use” development instead of separating student dorms from market housing complexes. This is a real possibility in Acadia neighbourhood, for example.
7. Build more high-rise and smaller residential units – Because of the high cost of housing in Greater Vancouver, UBC should follow the example of the private sector and build smaller dwelling units in high rise structures. These units would particularly be welcomed by untenured young faculty members and staff members who currently commute to the campus.
8. Increase Salaries and Benefits – Possibly the best approach to make housing on campus more affordable is for UBC to increase salaries and benefits for faculty and staff. An institution like UBC does not really have that many options because, in the final analysis, market forces will be the main determinants of housing costs. Higher salaries and benefits will also have the added advantage of attracting the brightest and the best to UBC.
*Prod Laquian is Professor Emeritus of Community and Regional Planning, former Director of the UBC Centre for Human Settlements and the current Chair and President of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA). He is also co-coordinator of a UN-HABITAT project on the delivery of basic housing and urban services by local governments in 13 countries in the Asia Pacific region (2012-2014).
UBC by and large does the right things: subsidize down payment, build market condos, build rental units and densitfy land. Vancouver will always be expensive, due to scenery and immigration from former frosty prairies dwellers like me or international immigrants. People spoke of a real estate bubble when I first lived here in the late 80′s .. And now prices are easily triple and will go higher for houses, whose density, unlike condos, cannot be increased easily.
The one thing missing is a fast rail link (subway or LRT or SkyTrain) to UBC connecting it to the cheaper housing market in the Lower Mainland, East-Van or North-Van, making reasonable commute times possible. Not every UBC employee wants to live close to campus or in a shoe-boxed sized condo. Many more and affordable options exist further afield.
Rapid transit to UBC is vital to address the housing issue. Probably THE most important factor in a solution.
Many folks would prefer to live in Kits and take a train that might take 15 minutes than live on Campus for essentially the same rent. Houses in Burnaby or Surrey can be had for well below $1M and would be attractive if one could avoid the damn, wobbly and slow diesel bus.
If UBC is serious about on-campus affordability for staff, it could allow a major reduction in price by forcing a large percentage of every new condo building to be sellable only to staff, say at 50% below market. Then the buyer also has to sell to another staff member when she/he sells, based on an index or the SAME discount to market. That might even eliminate the CRA deemed benefit as the gain is also reduced. However, this would dramatically lower land values UBC could get when selling only market housing. Therefore I am not so sure if UBC really wants to do that or has even analyzed these costs to the tune of 100′s of millions in reduced land lease sales.
Not quite. Speculators (aka empty high end condos by Asian investors) drive up market prices and as such increases the cash UBC can extract from its land. Any subsidy in any form, be it subsidized housing or more rentals, will reduce land value significantly, thus a fine balancing act of various forms of real estate development is required by UBC, satisfying not only existing students, PhDs, profs, staff and non-UBC affiliated residents like me, but also future ones. Not an easy task as the variety of commentary in this blog shows, for example.
Would it be better to raise your tuition 100% ? Sale of land leases provide massive amounts of money to UBC, allowing UBC to subsidize staff salaries and tuition costs.
Both Cambridge and Oxford, faced with real estate prices beyond faculty salaries, have developed shared equity schemes:
Here is an interesting article that puts this in perspective. Unfortunately, it applies equally to new faculty who are likely sitting better than 2x the mean average family income.
With three young children in a small apartment I perceive, quite literally, a rapidly growing problem. In absence of a swift and meaningful solution there will be few options that involve Vancouver. As more and more ambitious, creative, and hard-working people are forced out, the impact to UBC (and the city), is both grave and certain.
From President Toope’s letter to the community:
“This year a Board of Governors-mandated Faculty and Staff Housing Taskforce will report back on its efforts to identify means to help UBC create more affordable housing options in one of the most expensive markets in North America. The Taskforce has already done a lot of work learning from the programmes of sister institutions, mostly in the United States.”
I look forward to their report, with my expectations firmly set to “low”.
Food for a thought:
-Extend the housing assistance to include the staff too.
-No re-sale should be permitted to the general public.
-Once purchased, it should become the primary residence of the faculty/staff. No renting/leasing shall be permitted.
Otherwise, as a wise man once said “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”!
There’s a cohort of faculty and staff already identified who are interested in cohousing, and who would love to see this developed as an available housing form — legally, according to Campus and Community Planning, this could be as simple as Strata with enhanced amenities.
We wish to live in a faculty/staff co-development that is exemplary in its ability to: (1) build community, (2) be environmentally sustainable, (3) be architecturally inspiring, and (4) be integrated into the natural environment (likely by the presence of community gardens, nearness to PSP or other forest, and distance from major roads).
We would be interested in exploring other possible characteristics beyond those 4 fundamental ones, including creating diversity in the sizes/types of offered housing stock, a Stanford model of home co-ownership with UBC, having some of the common space be retail or be available to UBC or UNA functions or associate members (for example, faculty/staff living elsewhere on or off campus), having it be a very explicit site for multiple aspects of Campus as a Living Lab, and/or creating a design competition for the plan.
Anyone interested in joining this listserve, please email me at email@example.com
I’ve just begun my 3rd year at UBC and have been renting in City Hall area. A few points:
– I agree 100% with suggestions to scrap the arbitrary 7 year limit on housing assistance to new faculty members. Each new faculty member should be able to receive this assistance once, without a time constraint.
– I understand UBC wants to expand on-campus housing options. This is a noble aim. At the same time, the reality is that the amenities are far far less than what can be found in other neighborhoods (downtown, kits, south false creek, point grey) while the cost of living on-campus is not noticeably less. Thus, incentive to live on-campus is low, and I doubt even further reductions in cost would make on-campus housing options widely helpful for retention and recruitment. On-campus housing could be made more viable and attractive if there was quicker and more convenient transportation to downtown and to the point grey/kits/false creek areas, and if amenities immediately surrounding campus were increased.
– Enhanced on-campus housing can only be a part of the plan to improve retention and hiring. A major draw to Vancouver is the opportunity to live its wonderful neighborhoods. Most faculty we hire do not want to make their permanent home on campus. Moreover, many faculty we hire have spouses in professions with downtown jobs, and living on campus would be an inconvenience.
– Thus, the centerpiece of housing assistance should remain assistance with a down-payment and/or monthly mortgage costs, or other approaches that don’t constrain faculty choice regarding where to live. Junior faculty being recruited to UBC will want to know they can eventually afford to purchase a a nice and sufficiently spacious home in a neighborhood of their choosing. The current available housing assistance is a very good start towards achieving this aim, and it should be enhanced as much as possible by increasing the amounts available and by getting rid of the 7-year limit.
– Especially in the current housing market, which could very well represent a bubble waiting to burst, it could be bad financial strategy for faculty to become first-time home buyers in the next few years. Therefore, it is even more important to get rid of the 7-year limit.
– One idea being floated is to use housing assistance selectively as part of retention or hiring packages for faculty UBC deems especially good. As soon as I heard this I thought, “great, so I guess I’ll have to go on the market at some point to get better housing assistance.” While I’m not against the concept of using enhanced housing assistance as part of retention or recruitment packages, we don’t want to create an incentive for faculty to go on the market.
Your post has some interesting points, and it would be interesting to hear more discussion of your proposed two-tier system. Personally I think it is misguided, as UBC is simply not in the same league as Harvard etc.
However, the weakest point of your proposal is the discussion of salaries. You write:
“UBC could hand pick the more senior distinguished people they want to maintain (or recruit from elsewhere) by providing a competitive enough salary so that premier people could easily afford housing nearby.”
The mistakes here are the failure to recognize that Vancouver houses are in a bubble, and the belief that higher salaries can counteract the bubble. Let me provide some data that illustrates how hopeless it is to “afford housing nearby” with “competitive salaries”.
According to CMHC’s “Vancouver CMA Market Summary (Q2 2011)” the qualifying *income* for an average single family home on the Vancouver West Side is $496k. (At April 2011 prices, current mortgage rates, 20% down payment and 25-year amortization). There is *only one UBC employee* who earns that much (and it’s not President Toope).
This information comes from a very informative local housing blog:
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