HAP Discussion

UBC Board approves improved faculty housing assistance program

It is hiring season at UBC and my inbox was feeling it. “Housing is proving a major factor in our current recruitment round. What is the status of the housing action plan,” wrote a department head. Similar queries were coming from many units currently engaged in competitive recruitment of the best and the brightest. Well, I have good news. The Board of Governors has just approved an improved version of the housing assistance program that was voted in September 2012. And the provost’s office has shifted into high gear in order to accommodate the current recruitment effort.

Why is it an improved version? Because a new option was added in order to facilitate on-campus home ownership/leasing for tenured and tenure-track faculty members. The remainder of the plan, in particular the part pertaining to rental opportunities, remains the same. The Board of Governors has indeed directed the Administration and the UBC Properties Trust (UBCPT) to commence a pilot program for up to 150 units and/or loans over three years to support the implementation of Policy 1 of the Housing Action Plan. The approved faculty can now exercise two options:

They can either choose the previously approved option of purchasing into the “Restricted Resale and Capped Appreciation project.” The first such buildings will be on Lot 45. It will go ahead if and only if there is demand for at least 80% of the units in that development.

The Board added another option: The “Restricted Faculty Second Mortgage Loan Program,” which is applicable to purchase units in various current and upcoming projects on UBC’s Vancouver campus as identified by UBCPT as part of the program.

The Board also directed the Administration and UBCPT to include an option for several large (approximately 1500+ sq. ft.) units within any Restricted Resale Capped Appreciation Project (where sufficient demand exists). The UBCPT will also encourage third-party developers of market projects to provide larger three-bedroom units or to accommodate requests to aggregate smaller units into larger ones (approximately 1500+ sq. ft.) at the presale stage, subject to receiving committed faculty demand for these units.

Now, a few cautionary items:

  1. Not every faculty member is eligible for this program. These two options are meant to address retention and recruitment challenges. The Board has also approved a set of policies dealing with the eligibility, allocation, and occupancy, which will guide implementation of both faculty home ownership program options.
  2. And here is a very important piece of information. Unlike traditional real estate transactions, both options will very likely entail an assessment of potential taxable benefits. While the tax implications surrounding option #2 are relatively well understood, this is not entirely the case for option #1.

The Board has therefore directed the Administration to fully explain the financial implications for both programs in detail. Given that the financial and tax situation of each faculty member will be different, the program participants will be encouraged to seek independent financial and tax advice, and will be required to confirm in writing that they have done so.

Is this plan the best that the Board could offer for the faculty? I say yes, once one considers the constraints under which we are operating.

We could have of course asked that the Restricted Faculty Second Mortgage Loan program be applicable to purchase any residential property on the UBC campus or University Endowment. But this would create a serious cash flow problem for UBCPT.

We could have asked that at time of sale in option #2, UBCPT simply gets its mortgage back instead of receiving 33% of any appreciation. But this would have made the assistance program less sustainable and unfair for future generations of faculty.

I would however like to see UBCPT be proactive in developing policies to minimize the taxable benefit to faculty participants in the Restricted Resale Capped Appreciation project. After all, I don’t see how anyone by any stretch of the imagination could fail to understand that the value of a property under such restrictions could not be equivalent to similar ones on the open market.

In any case, this plan is a huge step forward for UBC. Kudos to the Board of Governors and to the Administration for removing what I believe is the last barrier preventing UBC from becoming one of the top 10 public universities in the world. Now that Stephen Toope is stepping down from the presidency, we can start contemplating what his legacy for UBC will be. This bold initiative will undoubtedly be a defining part of his.


A historic institutional housing action plan at UBC

Cambridge and Oxford Universities have one. The Weizmann Institute has one, and so does Harvard, Princeton, NYU, Columbia, Stanford, UCLA and UC-Irvine. And in a Canadian first, in a move that will differentiate UBC from any other university in Canada, UBC has now one. Indeed, the UBC Board of Governors has just approved the institutional housing action plan for its faculty, staff and students as proposed by the “Community Planning Task Group” that I have been chairing for the past 18 months. The new plan, which is arriving not one minute too soon, addresses simultaneously several challenges that this fast-rising university is currently dealing with. I have written before about the factors and circumstances that led to the development of such a plan (also here). It is high time to talk about the solutions that the Board of Governors is now offering. Here are some of them:

For tenured and tenure-track faculty

The plan will support the university’s faculty recruitment and retention priorities by introducing an affordable home ownership option for up to 10% of all new housing units built on campus. Re-sale of these homes will be restricted to tenured and tenure-track faculty, and re-sale values will be indexed to faculty salaries to a maximum price no higher than 33% below market value.

It will improve the ability of faculty to access the University’s “Housing Assistance Program” to assist with the purchase of a principal residence within Metro Vancouver, by extending the eligibility period for the Program from 7 to 10 years.

For faculty and staff

The plan will help address housing affordability challenges of UBC’s workforce, by directing that up to 20% of future housing on campus be built as non-market rental available only to faculty and staff. Non-market rents will reflect costs and expenses and are anticipated to be approximately 25% below average rates charged for unrestricted comparable housing in terms of age and quality on Vancouver’s west side.

The plan will support the University’s objective of ensuring that a significant proportion of future housing on campus will be accessible to those who work or study on campus, by building up to 30% of all new housing on campus as rental, 2/3 of which will be non-market and reserved to UBC affiliated personnel.

The plan will help address the challenges of lower income employee groups in accessing housing on campus, by recommending that UBC develops a pilot project of up to 100 non-profit rental units with priority to staff with annual household incomes of less than $64,000. This pilot project will be developed in collaboration with UBC Properties Trust.

The plan calls for a campus housing that reflects the demographics of the University’s workforce. As such, it calls for a wide range of unit sizes, to include both smaller “starter” units, units suitable for single or 2 person households, and 3 bedroom units for families.

The plan calls for improving the opportunities for UBC faculty and staff to purchase market leasehold units on campus. The University will therefore work with UBC Properties Trust to provide preferential, early access for faculty and staff to purchase new units before they are released for sale to the general public.

For undergraduate students, grads and postdocs

The plan calls for the development of Gage South for student housing, with priority for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

It re-enforces UBC’s mid-term goal of providing capacity to accommodate student housing for up to 50% of the 2010 full time student enrollment. This will support the University’s continuing transition from a commuter campus to a more complete university community,

It supports the Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) business plan, which calls for expanding the supply of student housing and the range of unit types and sizes. (e. g. studio units, 4-6 bedroom style units, and furnished and unfurnished 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units). This will better respond to the increasingly diverse housing needs and demands of students including undergraduate, graduate and students with families.

The plan calls on UBC to continue its policy of controlling its student rental rates by operating on a self-supporting, fully cost-recovery basis, and in a fiscally responsible fashion to ensure rates are maintained at or below market rental rates.

It calls for the University to develop on behalf of students an advocacy strategy seeking greater housing allowance in Provincial financial aid programs for lower income students on student loans. This will help address the gap between the shelter allowance portions of BC’s student loan program and current rental rates at UBC.

This is an institutional housing action plan designed for UBC’s faculty, for its staff, for its students and for UBC’s vision to develop a vibrant, sustainable, scholarly and fun residential community that is second to one.

The plan is the culmination of 18 months of hard work by the department of Campus and Community Planning, Treasury, Property Trust, and my colleagues on the Task Group: Anne Marie, Richard, Robert, Sumedha, Sean, Bill, Sarah, Michael and of course the President.

The plan will be yet another indication that UBC takes care of its own. It addresses our retention problems whether in the junior ranks of our professorate or with our child care workers.

The plan will allow us to compete on the international level, whether in hiring knowledge workers  or in recruiting students who are seeking knowledge.

Such an institutional plan will consecrate the fact that no other entity can lay governance claims on the university lands.

This is a well thought-out plan, a legacy making initiative. It is another historic moment for UBC.

We have a plan!

A UBC Housing Action Plan that is, which –I believe– will help improve housing choice and affordability for faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students on the Vancouver campus. Actually, it is still only a discussion paper waiting for your input, before it goes to a final decision by the Board of Governors. We therefore need your help –You present and future UBCers, your children, your parents and your friends– in this final push towards an important milestone in UBC’s relentless march towards the very top of the world’s academic institutions. We invite you to read the Discussion Paper, to learn about the recommended potential housing opportunities and how we developed those options. You may also want to watch the Housing Action Plan video!

The Community Planning Task Group has been gathering feedback and information since April 2011 to help it in the development of these options and opportunities. The process began with a thorough review of UBC’s existing housing programs. Several new options were brought forward for consideration as a result of an assessment of other universities’ and jurisdictions’ housing programs and public input. Faculty, staff, and students have participated actively in three public forums, focus groups, a blog and outreach meetings between April 2011 and March 2012.

Read the Discussion Paper and have your say!

The next phase of public consultation extends from March 20 through April 2, 2012. Visit our Consultation page to participate online or register for a workshop on March 29th. And while you’re at it, you may want to send a little note of appreciation to the folks at Campus and Community Planning for their Herculean efforts on this front over the last eleven month.

Next Steps

Following the close of the consultation period, your input, along with further technical and financial analysis, will help in developing a set of recommended program options to be included in the final housing action plan which will be considered by the Board of Governors in summer 2012.

My opening remarks at the UBC housing forum

Various and somewhat distorted versions of my statements at yesterday’s UBC housing forum were published on several websites. I am therefore posting here the full text of my opening remarks.

  • Welcome and thank you for coming today to discuss the very important issue of housing choice and affordability for students, faculty and staff.
  • What is this task group about? Well! As you may know, the Board of Governors approved last year major plans for the densification of university lands. Many of us supported these plans because they created an opportunity to remedy the housing problem for our students/faculty and staff. An opportunity to create affordable housing, more choices and a more vibrant community that will incentivize UBC personnel to live on campus.
  • Hence this task group that the Board asked me to chair to find ways to improve on what we are doing, and develop a Housing Action Plan for the Vancouver campus.
  • Now I say that this initiative is not coming one minute too soon as the situation keeps getting worse. Not of course for the city’s real estate tycoons, but to our colleagues here at UBC who are trying to secure a decent home.
  • In the last 2 weeks, people living on the west side got their property assessments. Typically they were up by 40%. Now this may have made some people feel richer — but this doesn’t bode well for the future of UBC.
  • And before I got involved in this, I used to only know about the recruitment and retention problems in my own department at UBC. Since then, I have been hearing stories from all over campus:  Political science, Psychology, Physics, the Library. Departments that can’t even recruit heads, CRCs even CERCs because they are coming from jurisdictions with much more affordable housing.
  • And staff. No one has ever considered the plight of staff. Not at UBC and not elsewhere. We are also determined to do something about that. Because there is no other way for a university to go forward.

What have we done so far? First, we wanted input, your input on what to do and how best to do it. And since we started this process last April,

  • We have been organizing fora, just like this one, which is the third in a series we have hosted on this topic.
  • I’ve talked to Deans to find out what they see as the challenges for their academic departments.
  • We have started a blog on the Board of Governors website, and we have been encouraging people to contribute comments. Please do!
  • CCP staff have had focus groups with renters and owners to learn more about what approaches would help them live on campus.
  • They have been meeting with your employee representatives to find out what they are hearing from their members.
  • We have also visited other universities that have the same challenges. NYU, Columbia, Harvard, UCLA, Irvine. Inquired about Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford.  And believe me these universities are way ahead of us on this front. Not only because they are located in prohibitively expensive areas but because their bread and butter is competitive hiring, which is what UBC is destined to do.
  • Campus Community Planning staff have also been looking with other jurisdictions, such as Whistler, and other organizations such as BC housing to find out what has and hasn’t worked for them.
  • The next steps? We are planning on having a discussion paper that outlines some potential options in late March. You will be getting a sneak preview today from Lisa, mostly some of the options we are exploring. So please speak up if you feel that some of these options are deficient or lacking.
  • Students should feel free to ask any question they may have about student housing. Brian Heathcote is here from SHHS and will be available during the Q&A.  There will also be an opportunity during the discussion portion of the forum for students to talk about their housing issues.
  • I will now ask Lisa Colby, the Director of Policy Planning for Campus and Community Planning, to tell you more about some of the different strategies we are exploring to address the housing challenges faced by faculty and staff.

“A no-brainer, if you ask me”

That was in an email from a colleague at one of UBC’s better departments. “Gents, In your capacities as …, and BoG-dude (AKA faculty representative on the Board of Governors), have a look at these two links. A no-brainer, if you ask me.” One link is to starting salaries, the other to house prices. Both for Austin, Texas. That was in response to an email from the Head.

“Colleagues: Regrettably, X.X.  has declined our offer and accepted a position at the University of Texas at Austin. Best wishes and Happy New Year.”

Even more regrettable is that this is becoming a recurring story at UBC …. at least in some departments. Only yesterday, the chair of my department’s search committee confided:  “I really think that the applicant from Berkeley is seriously interested in our CRC position,  but I won’t hold my breath until he gets to discover our housing prices”.

And incredibly,  we don’t have serious data about how many candidates have been declining our offers because of the ridiculously distorted salary vs. housing cost ratio in Vancouver.

Even more astonishing is that only two of the UBC deans have expressed serious concerns about this major impediment to recruitment and retention efforts. Another said that it was not a problem yet but conceded that it might become one in the near future. The rest chose to remain silent. I hope that it was a sign of their contentment with their Faculties’ record (and academic level) on these issues.

In any case, the Board and the Senior Administration are committed to do something about it. But first, we need your support, your help, and your contribution. Please join us on Wednesday, January 18th for a forum that will focus on faculty/staff housing. You will get to have an “early look” at the options being explored and an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback about key issues related to these options.

You may have been one of the lucky colleagues, who have resolved your housing challenge in times past, and you may have even benefitted royally –at least on paper– from Vancouver’s inflationary real estate market. But we still need your help because this is also about the future of UBC.

Lessons learned: Housing at NYU, Columbia, Harvard, UCLA and UC-Irvine

Last June, I and a few other UBC Governors and senior staff visited NYU, Columbia, Harvard, UCLA, and UC-Irvine. Just like UBC, these universities are located in areas where housing prices are prohibitive. And just like them, UBC is in the business of competing to attract and retain the best talents, well aware of the need to create favorable and affordable living and working conditions. The purpose of this fact-finding mission was to learn about the various community and housing programs that these sister institutions are using to address the challenges for their campuses and for their faculty, staff and students.

What stands out of our visits  is the embedded pride that these universities project at all levels in the support they provide to their faculty and to their students. Unfortunately, none of these sister institutions had any support program for staff. We are hoping that UBC will lead the way in this direction.

Here are summaries of what we have learned on these visits. You can find them on the Board of Governors’ webpage/blog dedicated to the UBC Housing Action Plan, which also features other related topics and where you can participate in the ongoing discussion.

  1. How NYU tackling its housing challenges?
  2. COLUMBIA’S proactive approach to housing faculty and students
  3. Then there is HARVARD!
  4. UCLA: How is a public university dealing with its housing issues? 
  5. UC-IRVINE: A singularly successful faculty housing model?

The problem with developing a “Housing Action Plan” for UBC (II) – Cash Flow

The UBC administration is quite aware of how critical the issue of housing is to the future of the university and is committed to addressing it. The President said as much in his latest town hall meeting, and the Board of Governors did after all set up a task group to develop a “Housing Action Plan”.  But no  assistance plan is cost-free and a key question is how much they are willing to forfeit in revenue loss from land leases in order to produce a serious response to the housing crisis. I wish I already knew the answer to that but I don’t. However, I know enough to say that the university’s current financial pressures will be another hurdle to reckon with en route to developing affordable housing options for UBC-affiliated personnel.

Now unlike Stanford or UC-Irvine, which have dedicated substantial parcels of their real estate to support faculty housing while forgoing any financial return from the transactions, UBC had decided many years ago to proceed differently as it elected to unlock the cash value of its land for the express purpose of beefing up its endowment.

Indeed, more than 20 years ago, UBC established a private company, the UBC Properties Trust (UBC-PT). Its mission was to “acquire, develop and manage real estate assets for the benefit of the University, by servicing and marketing lands for residential development”. So far, UBC-PT has contributed over $200-million in cash to the UBC Endowment.

In contrast, UC Irvine did also set up –26 years ago– a separate, non-profit body—the Irvine Campus Housing Authority (ICHA)— but with the sole purpose of building and managing rental and for-sale housing for eligible UC-Irvine employees on lands donated (rather sold for $1) to the university by the Irvine Company. Unlike UBC-PT, the ICHA is not required to yield its profits (if any) to the University. In a way, its role is similar to what Whistler has done to administer their below-market workforce housing.

One does wonder, in view of Vancouver’s hot real estate market and the current bearish stock market, whether having an endowment that is investing proceeds of land sale (OK leases!) in the financial markets is a better approach  than “sitting” on a continuously appreciating real estate. After all, with the current volatility in the financial markets, one needs to make lots of irreversible condo sales to make up for the hundreds of millions that the endowment funds can sometimes lose overnight.

Moreover, selling university lands to the highest bidder in order to beef-up the university endowment fund, is hardly a legacy-making initiative. Why would any administration choose to accumulate piles of cash in an endowment (for succeeding administrations to spend?), instead of going down in history as the one that took care of its own, and in the process save the future of UBC as a first rate university? Isn’t it a no-brainer for the Board of Governors to re-visit the mandate of UBC-PT, at least in regard to the ultimate destination of its proceeds?

Well, the picture is indeed changing and the administration has indeed ambitious plans for the cash generated by land development, just as one would expect from any pro-active administration. Actually, much of the expected earnings from land development –at least in the near future– are kind of already committed to major infrastructure projects at UBC. It is the earning power of the UBC Property Trust that is allowing us to improve the public realm of the university, to build new student housing such as the Ponderosa Hub. And now we hear talks about a potential ambitious “district energy” project for South Campus.

In other words, the money (at least the future returns of UBC-PT) is already spoken for; hence the pressure for generating it from the university lands sooner and not later.  And the challenge to develop a transformational affordable housing action plan looms larger than expected.

Am I trying to manage expectations and avoid future misunderstandings between the Board/Administration and the rest of us? You bet I am!

The problem with developing a “Housing Action Plan” for UBC (I) – Attitudes

Many hurdles face the prospect of a sound “Housing Action Plan” for UBC, not the least of which being personal attitudes shaped by Vancouver’s real estate subculture, the variable academic standards within the university, the ethical issues of eligibility and sustainability, as well as the cash needs of a UBC administration that is engaged in an aggressive agenda of development and renewal.

If you think that a “University Housing Action Plan” is easy to develop and implement, think again.  Many of our UBC colleagues are saying, “What’s the problem? The university got all its lands for free, so it should be a piece of cake to dedicate at least some of it to affordable housing for faculty, students and staff, and it wouldn’t cost the university a cent”. Well, it is not as simple as it sounds –at least not as much as I thought when I began dealing with this issue. The hurdles are indeed numerous.

This first of three posts will address the issue of “Attitudes”, and please allow me to be a tad more provocative than usual.

To start with, there is the permanent challenge of trying to understand the real needs of a notoriously apathetic faculty body. I have always maintained that the actions of the Board of Governors on affordable housing will be directly proportional to the intensity of the concerns, which is often illustrated by the number of faculty, staff and students expressing genuine interest. Why should they otherwise bother with such a complex and costly matter?

We therefore launched a few months ago, a website/blog for the UBC housing action plan, with the intention of using it to continuously update the UBC community on the process but more importantly, with the hope of turning it into a useful open forum for discussions.

Yet, of the more than 12000 faculty and staff we have at UBC, only 65 of them bothered to venture an opinion and comment on the issue of affordable housing. Less than 50 people showed up to the latest forum organized jointly by the AMS and UBC’s Campus & Community Planning department. So, what gives?

It is understood that many of our more senior colleagues (at least on the faculty side) have already dealt with their housing challenges, and most have even benefitted royally from Vancouver’s inflationary real estate market. Even those who were shell-shocked by the prices a mere 5-7 years ago but who opted –and somehow managed– to buy into the housing market, did well and probably made a small fortune from it–at least on paper.

But this does not solve UBC’s housing problem. It exacerbates it. First, by de-mobilizing a part of our faculty and staff from being directly involved in the issue, and secondly by linking it to subjective matters such as the role of personal behavior regarding choice, decision making and risk taking.

We need people to realize that at least the new arrivals to UBC amongst our colleagues are facing even bigger odds in the housing sweepstakes, let alone the future generations of faculty and staffs that won’t even have a chance to contemplate joining the –increasingly exclusive– game.

The Dean of Science, Simon Peacock, weighs in on the issue from his frontline position. Given the extreme increase in Vancouver housing prices, UBC’s current housing policy is not adequate and I am concerned that no matter how much money we put into this program, it cannot keep pace with real estate inflation. And betting that the Vancouver housing bubble will burst is not a plan.”

I may add that, “betting on our colleagues to gamble big, mortgage their futures and ride housing bubbles, is also not a plan.”

But we are also running into this unique Vancouverite culture, which often sees real estate as not simply a vehicle to secure a shelter for one’s self or family, but also as the financial investment of a lifetime.  NYC residents are very likely happy to stay in rental housing for all their lives, and subsidized rental is an easy fix to their problems. In contrast, there is a predominant mindset in BC that calls on people to get into the real estate market as fast as they can before they miss the boat. How can you plan around that?

With this subculture in mind, can the university consider the option of providing affordable housing by controlling the resale price or the amount by which the property can appreciate? Would people be interested in purchasing housing on campus if the appreciation was limited in some way?

Next comes the hard truth that we –at UBC– are not yet burdened nor challenged by the requirements of a top-ten (top-twenty?) university. In other words, we are not competing yet with the Harvards and the Stanfords of this world, which will require us to up the ante and offer whatever it takes to recruit and retain (only) those who are equally wanted by competing first class universities. Some of our departments and Faculties are, but most are not. After all, we are a university that still awards tenure to the absolute majority of its faculty, hardly a match to the stringent tenure requirements of the world’s top universities.

If our attitude is that, regardless of what we do, we will always be one of the top three universities in Canada, we will never be short of recruiting people to teach our courses, and scholars will always choose Vancouver over Saskatoon, then we will never have a housing problem at UBC to deal with.

The Dean of Arts, Gage Averill alludes to this issue by saying, I agree with many of my colleagues that even if this (housing affordability) hasn’t yet caused a hemorrhage of our human resources, it threatens to do so in the future if this market continues to be as buoyant.”

And I may add, “And if our standards are to be maintained or elevated”.

The real cost of non-affordable housing in and around UBC

One colleague wrote, “I think you will find many [such] stories among recent hires at UBC who left us due to the real estate woes, or candidates we wanted to attract who took a look at the housing prices and voted with their feet.”  Welcome to the UBC paradox: A remarkably land rich university that is running the risk of losing its competitive edge because of the prohibitive cost of its own real estate.

It is indeed a fact that not only the cost of housing in Vancouver’s West side has become insane, but this insanity has also engulfed the university’s neighborhoods. An offer of an $80K annual salary to an assistant professor is immediately trivialized by the news that a tiny one-bedroom apartment on the UBC campus costs as much as 6.5 times his/her pre-tax salary.

The situation is even more hopeless for new recruits with children. There is no detached house in Vancouver West for less than $1.2 million. Their only option –besides rejecting the university’s offer– is to avoid living on campus and the west side altogether.

Housing affordability and choice for faculty and staff are indeed the most significant obstacles to UBC’s ongoing quest to become a world leading university. There is no doubt that these factors are preventing us from recruiting and retaining many outstanding faculty and staff. Some departments are already experiencing the consequences of the housing crunch, especially those who have made a conscious decision to increase their levels a notch or two in order to be more competitive on the world level.

But let’s face it. This challenge is not felt uniformly across the university and many of our departments are neither in that league nor in that operating mode yet. Just look at the Faculties who couldn’t care less about this debate. They will always be able to find people to recruit after all.

And what if they –outstanding or ordinary– come anyway and accept to live in Surrey, which is more than an hour away from their workplace.  Our colleagues, Darrin Lehman and Yves Tiberghien say that this is extremely costly to the university, in many ways.

“We know several faculty whose behavior changed dramatically once they moved off-campus. Owing to traffic and the loss of efficiency, they started coming in only 2 days a week. Gradually, they started avoiding students and meetings, the opposite of what they were doing for years when they lived on campus.”

“The situation also creates perverse incentives towards devoting more and more time to consulting and non-scholarly activities, or accepting visiting positions elsewhere, as soon as April comes along. Gradually, faculty who stay at UBC will find themselves becoming helicopter professors, dropping in for classes and crucial duties, and rushing off to earn money or do their long commute home.” 

They also talk about the advantages of having faculty living on, or close to the university vs. renting far off-campus.

  • Unlike other jobs, a key contribution of faculty is the extras they do for their students and community beyond their research & teaching. Service is a key part of a thriving university, and yet it presumes some slack in a faculty member’s time and a safe home base. Housing insecurity cuts all this away as it initiates a fight for survival – desperately looking for alternatives to provide stable housing for one’s family.
  • Faculty are more available for evening classes and evening events with students, more available for graduate students, more productive, when not wasting hours in traffic or moving homes given the unstable rental market.
  • They are less pushed toward doing consulting and other money-earning activities outside campus, more rooted with long-term commitment to university as a life mission.

There are also other benefits to the university for having faculty, staff and students live on campus.

  • The importance of sustaining and preserving the special character of the UBC Town as a university community.
  • The necessity of protecting the governance of the university land from unintended consequences of uncontrolled development.  With the hospice controversy in mind, one could venture that UBC-affiliated personnel are better positioned to accept and appreciate the living conditions within a university community. They would be more inclined to accept keeping academic priorities at the core of future decisions regarding campus development, taxation, representation, and governance.
  • The urgency of controlling the traffic flow in and out of campus, by making sure that more people affiliated with UBC live at UBC. It is not hard to contemplate an undesirable alternative where a reverse traffic flow is created by having substantial numbers of UBC dwellers commute to work outside of campus, while UBC personnel living elsewhere struggle to get to work in the opposite direction.

Doing away with such potential benefits is another real cost for the university. But as mentioned by the Dean of Applied Science, there is also another costly consequence to watch for, if we fail to act.

“There is a psychological factor that makes many professors bitter and angry with UBC. When a professor feels that after 20 years of service to UBC he/she is unable to buy a unit on campus but others who have nothing to do with UBC are; it is very demoralizing.”

“In sum”, conclude Lehman and Tiberghien, “there are many benefits that are externalities and not integrated into the pure monetary equation. Ideally, we should put values on these other things and see how the equation changes.”

Amen! The question is how?


The future of UBC could be determined by … Housing

Providing faculty housing is partly how Stanford grew from nowhere in 1960 to elite in 1980. Columbia’s renaissance in the 1980′s as one of the top Ivy league institutions has been credited to opportunistic housing purchases around campus which allowed the university to pursue a transformational faculty and staff housing assistance policy. UBC President Stephen Toope identified housing as “the biggest challenge that UBC faces going forward in terms of recruitment and retention both of students and faculty.” We couldn’t agree more.

“I have spent more time working on faculty housing than almost any other issue I have encountered during my tenure as provost, and I recognize the vital importance of this task”. That was Columbia University Provost Claude M. Steele in 2008, announcing the extension of the University’s pilot housing assistance program. It is time that we start working on this issue at UBC, because if we don’t face up to it, housing insecurity for faculty and staff may end up being extremely costly to this university, and not only in dollar value.

The good news is that the President of UBC, as well as its Board of Governors have asserted their commitment to build more favorable, more affordable and more sustainable living and working conditions for faculty, students and staff at this University. As chair of the Community Planning Task Group (CPTG), I am committed to helping them with this task.

But first, faculty, staff and students need to realize that any serious housing action plan will require that the university sacrifices some of its resources, at least for the short term.   It is therefore imperative that we all participate in making the case by getting engaged in the process, including those among us, who may already have had the fortune of resolving their personal housing challenge under more favorable circumstances in the city’s real estate market.

To facilitate this, we have launched a website/blog for the UBC HOUSING ACTION PLAN. This website will be used to update the UBC community on where we are in the process. We are also hoping that it will also be a useful open forum for discussions on these issues.

Please join the conversation and contribute to that weblog. Tell us about your own and/or your colleagues’ housing challenges, how you think UBC can assist in resolving them, as well as what you know about other universities’ ways in dealing with similar situations.

We need your help and your support.

UBC to incentivize its own to live on the university land

In the next five days, I and a few other UBC governors and senior staff will be visiting NYU, Columbia, Harvard, UCLA, UC-Irvine and Stanford. Just like UBC, these universities are located in areas where housing prices are prohibitive. And just like them, UBC is now in the business of competing to attract and retain the best talents, well aware of the need to create favorable and affordable living and working conditions. The purpose of this fact-finding mission is to learn about the various community and housing programs that these sister institutions are using to address the challenges for their campuses and for their faculty, staff and students.

The Community Planning Task Group that I am currently chairing has been asked by the UBC Board of Governors to develop a housing action plan for the Vancouver campus.  This initiative is not coming one minute too soon as we are surely at a critical juncture. Indeed, the real estate market in the lower mainland has reached a crisis level, especially in and around the university lands. Vancouver is now the most expensive city in North America.

We also hear about a huge influx of foreign capital into Vancouver that is targeting real estate. Speculation is creating a housing market that is totally disconnected from economic realities on the ground. The average house in Vancouver is now costing “an astounding” 11.2 times a family’s average income — more than double the national average. Faculty and staff salaries are looking more and more inconsequential as the difference between their purchasing power and those of external speculators is shutting them out, even from the UBC housing opportunities. Vancouver house prices have nearly tripled in the past decade. The salary increases of faculty and staff don’t come close.

On the other hand, the recently approved amendment to the UBC land use plan has created a window of opportunity. The plan calls for, among other things, a densification of the university land, in order to address campus residential needs, generate revenues for the UBC endowment, as well as create a vibrant and sustainable year-round university community to support shops, services and transit.

So, we are at a critical juncture.  One school of thought says that we should develop and sell to the highest bidder since in any case all the cash will be going to the UBC endowment, which eventually supports the academic mission. Another line of thinking, which the Board has adopted, is to be much more careful and deliberate with future campus development plans, and to align them closely with the UBC academic mission in a more directed, innovative and strategic manner. A case in point is the newly established “Student Housing Financing Endowment Fund”.

At the heart of the new approach to campus development is the need (and political will) to develop programs that will incentivize faculty, staff and students to live on campus.  This will indeed address many of the challenges that UBC is now facing, such as

  • The importance of sustaining and preserving the special character of the UBC Town as a university community.
  • The necessity of protecting the governance of the university land from unintended consequences of uncontrolled development.  With the hospice controversy in mind, one could venture that UBC-affiliated personnel are better positioned to accept and appreciate the living conditions within a university community. They would be more inclined to accept keeping academic priorities at the core of future decisions regarding campus development, taxation, representation, and governance.
  • The urgency of controlling the traffic flow in and out of campus, by making sure that more people affiliated with UBC live at UBC. It is not hard to contemplate an undesirable alternative where a reverse traffic flow is created by having substantial numbers of UBC dwellers commute to work outside of campus, while UBC personnel living elsewhere struggle to get to work in the opposite direction.
  • Last but not least, we have to address the problems of affordability and choice for faculty and staff, which is probably the most significant obstacle to UBC’s ongoing quest to become a world leading university. There is no doubt that this factor is preventing us from recruiting and retaining many outstanding faculty and senior staff. We simply cannot let somewhat artificial market forces decide the future of UBC. The top ranked US universities –that we are now visiting– have been acutely aware of this problem and its consequences. They have been trying to deal with it for some time now, and UBC has much to learn from their experiences.

How do we create such incentives?

  • First, we need to develop an enticing vibrant university town at UBC.  Shops, cafes, restaurants, theaters, community centers, sports facilities, green space, child care centers, transit, etc… We’ve come a long way but we are not there yet.
  • We should make sure that the university town is sustainable, day and night, winter and summer, hence the necessity to increase summer academic activities, including the initiation of a full-fledged summer session.
  • We need to improve housing choices and make them better adapted to the demographics of the UBC community. Smaller units for single and younger faculty and staff, but also larger family dwellings where they can move to if they elect to do so.
  • Of utmost importance is to address the issue of affordability for faculty and staff by ensuring that UBC earmarks a sufficient number of rental units on campus at substantially below market rates, which is the model adopted by NYU and Columbia.
  • There are also ways to address the affordability of owning/leasing housing units on campus, while maintaining the option for faculty and staff to build equity. Princeton, UC-Irvine and Stanford have developed innovative ways to do just that and we are looking forward to learn from them during our visit.

Engaging the UBC Housing Action Plan

The British Columbia government has recently approved the amendments to the UBC Land Use Plan that were submitted by the Board of Governors. The plan calls, among other things, for a densification of the university land, in order to address campus residential needs, generate revenues for the UBC endowment, as well as create a vibrant and sustainable year-round university community to support shops, services and transit.

In my personal opinion, the challenge is to try to do all of this without jeopardizing UBC’s future control of its land base, infringing on the academic zone, altering the university character of the UTown, weakening the university’s governance structure of its campus, or creating a reverse traffic flow out of UBC.

I have accepted to chair the “Community Planning Task Group” of the UBC Board of Governors, which will be leading the process of developing a Housing Action Plan for the Vancouver campus. The plan will be guiding the university’s future actions on this front.

One of the main objectives of the Housing Action Plan is to improve housing choices and affordability for faculty, staff and students on the Vancouver campus. This is an objective that I personally feel strongly about, because I believe that it is of the utmost importance for the alignment of future campus housing plans with the academic mission of UBC. For that, we need to develop a plan that will incentivize faculty, staff and students to live on campus. Why?

1.   The UBC campus is relatively isolated from other residential areas in Vancouver, and every year thousands of our students end up on long waiting lists trying to get into the few currently available residences. More of them need to be accommodated on campus, and concrete plans are currently in the works to do just that.

2.   The high cost of real estate in the Vancouver housing market is probably the most significant obstacle to UBC’s aspiration to be a leading research university. There is no doubt that this factor is preventing us from recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty and senior staff. This challenge can be addressed by an action plan that would improve housing choices and affordability for faculty and staff.

3.   We need to minimize the traffic flow in and out of the UBC area, by making sure that a large number of people working at the university have both the possibility and the incentive to reside on UBC land.

4.   One way to protect the integrity of the academic zones, as well as the future of the university governance of its land, is to maximize the number of those affiliated with the university, among campus residents. Another way is to ensure that individuals moving to UBC understand that they will be moving to a university community and all that entails.

5.   Last but not least, I personally believe that working towards these objectives is crucial for sustaining and preserving the unique character of the UBC Town as a university community.

To jump-start the process of developing this housing plan, the community planning task group invites all members of the UBC community to a public forum.

Date:                   Monday, April 4, 2011

Time:                   12:00 noon – 2:00 PM

Place:         GSS Ballroom, Thea Koerner House, 6371 Crescent Road

Refreshments will be available

The forum will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by UBC in creating affordable housing options on campus for its community, and will provide an opportunity for feedback to the Task Group.

Needless to say, we would like maximal community input into some key issues before we begin the development of the plan.  We want to hear directly from the various UBC stakeholders about their needs, their aspirations, and their thoughts on models to explore, in trying to create a vibrant and affordable UBC community.

The process is complex and the parameters to consider are numerous. We have therefore invited the following expert panelists to tell us how similar challenges were addressed elsewhere, and to present various survey results that are more pertinent to UBC”.

  • Craig Crawford, Vice President, Development Services, BC Housing will discuss the regional context for affordable housing development and present the innovative work BC Housing is doing with municipal governments to develop affordable housing.
  • Dr. Penny Gurstein, Professor and Director, School of Community & Regional Planning/ Centre for Human Settlements, UBC will discuss her research on models for affordable housing development.
  • Andrew Parr, Managing Director, Student Housing & Hospitality Services, UBC will present Student Housing Survey results and the challenges and opportunities for affordable student housing development on campus.
  • Lisa Colby, Associate Director, Planning Policy UBC, will present the Staff/Faculty Housing Survey results.

Panelists will present for 60 minutes followed by 60 minutes for comments and questions from the audience — 30 minutes on student housing issues and 30 minutes on faculty/staff housing issues.

Please RSVP to Stefani.lu@ubc.ca by Wednesday, March 30, 2011.

For more information,  visit http://www.planning.ubc.ca/housingaction

UBC and U of T: A tale of two student housing initiatives

Last week, both UBC and the University of Toronto announced major plans to increase student housing opportunities on their campuses. Two completely different approaches, both motivated by the same determination to “go even more global”, and by their respective government’s policies not to fund student housing projects. Compared to U of T’s plan and the way it was communicated, UBC’s comes out smelling of roses. Rightly so.

While UBC’s Board of Governors was announcing the establishment of the “Student Housing Financing Endowment” in a bid to dramatically increase its student housing capacity, U of T revealed its plans to lease a piece of “its land to a private developer who will build a towering private residence that will mainly house wealthy foreign students”.

The UBC Student Housing Financing Endowment will be supported by a portion of the proceeds of land development on campus. A first installment will finance the $136M Ponderosa complex with 1,100 student beds. U of T has elected to lease a piece of land it owns on College Street, just east of Spadina, to a private developer who purchased the adjacent lot and is proposing to build a luxurious $120M residence for more than 1,000 students.

UBC will be the sole owner/operator of its student housing projects. “U of T chose not to enter into partnership …  but into a land/lease relationship.”

U of T will receive an annual fee of $350,000 for the project, escalating with the consumer price index over time. With no middleman, the UBC endowment will receive ALL the revenues from its housing projects.

U of T says, “Although the lease agreement stipulates the only thing that can be built on its land is a student hall, the residence will not be exclusively for U of T use and the rates per room will be set by the building owners.” UBC student housing will be ALL about UBC students.

According to Lucy Fromowitz (U of T Assistant VP- of Student Life), “The (U of T) housing will serve international students and, to a lesser extent, graduate and out-of-province students”. UBC student housing will be for ALL interested students.

“U of T will have no obligation to fill the residence and no ongoing financial liability”. UBC will have no problem filling its student residences and projects ongoing financial gain.

U of T will not set rates, but the developer will have to ensure that the rates are competitive with those charged by both on-campus and off-campus residences”. He “is, however, committed to working with the University to ensure a quality experience for students”. UBC’s decision-making will be determined solely by its commitment to student life programs and services, and the sustainability of its endowment.

UBC’s student leadership is ecstatic about the new student housing endowment. Adam Awad, President of U of T’s student union says,  “The other concern is that (the residence) is being run by a private corporation. So there is no jurisdiction over what happens.”

“In a resource-constrained environment,” Bilyk (York University’s Director of Media Relations) said, private development “may be the only viable solution going forward.” UBC has other viable solutions and is willing to act on them.

The developer says U of T “needs bigger, shinier buildings to compete internationally” with American and European universities, many of which have added first-class towers over the years. “The university really needs some new residences to show international students and domestic students the quality,” he added. But he also admits that student housing is an “emerging new asset class in development,” a profit-making venture that will net investors the same type of returns as an apartment building.

There won’t be any developer speaking on behalf of UBC.

UBC President puts his money where his singing voice is

Inside the tent

The students were the big winners at yesterday’s UBC Board of Governors meeting. Credits go to a disciplined, focused and resourceful UBC Administration that has come a long way, and to exceptional student representatives, notwithstanding the little help that both got from their friends on the Board.

The Board approved yesterday 3 items that are hugely beneficial to current and future UBC students:

1.    The capping of tuition fees at 2% for the current cohort of international students for the next 3 years.

2.    A payment of $2 million towards the $17.9 million loan that the commerce students are supposed to pay through fees for the next 35 years. The loan was taken in order to fund Phase 2 renovations of the Sauder School building. The reimbursement is expected to reduce the amortization period by 7 years.

3. Last but not least is the establishment of the “Student Housing Financing Endowment”. The endowment will be supported by a portion of the proceeds of land development on campus. Normally, all proceeds go directly to the UBC endowment where it is invested in the market. This would now help finance the $136m Ponderosa complex with 1,100 student beds, which was also approved in yesterday’s Board meeting. It is worth noting that government does not fund student housing projects, and BC Universities are not allowed to borrow. As Toope says in a UBC press release, “The Student Housing Financing Endowment will allow the University to pursue student housing objectives without incurring the extra cost of market borrowing…”

This is a major development for UBC, and as I said in the Board meeting, it may as well be one of the main legacies of the University’s current Administration.

Toope also adds, “This endowment will be one tool for delivering on the Housing Action Plan for students, faculty and staff that the University is now elaborating.”

I should add that in a perfect textbook application of Lyndon Johnson’s famous doctrine on “directing certain fluid flows”, the BoG has asked me to chair the task group that will develop the UBC “Housing Action Plan”. I am looking forward to this challenge.

UBC Land Use Plan – Part I


UBC - Vancouver Campus

The background: UBC essentially “controls” one of the most valuable pieces of land in North America. The challenge is to try to unlock the multi-billion dollars value of that land in order to support student, faculty and staff housing, create a vibrant environment around the university, and beef up the endowment, all without disposing of the land base, infringing on the academic zone, altering the academic character of the UTown, threatening the governance of the university, and creating a reverse traffic flow out of UBC.
Since the passage of Bill 20 in June 2010, UBC has been busy developing and implementing a consultative process for amending the current Official Community Plan (OCP), which is the “bylaw” that establishes general land uses and policies for the entire 1,000-acre campus, with a special focus on non-institutional development. The OCP had been developed in collaboration with the GVRD in 1997, and has been regulating the university’s land use since. The latest version of the proposed new Land Use Plan (LUP) can be seen here. There are many facets to the issue that I will address in a series of blogs. First, the context, as I understand it.

  1. Student housing: The LUP calls for doubling the number of students/beds on campus by 2021. This aspect is a slam-dunk, and a win-win situation. First because of its geographic location, UBC — more than any other Canadian university — needs to develop a substantial stock of student housing. Second, this type of rental remains in the hands of the university, and third UBC will be able to recoup its investment through rental income, but of course after an initial period where we need to borrow to build.
  2. Non-market Rental Family housing for Faculty and Staff: This is also a desirable investment, for the same reasons as students housing. This is a model heavily used by NYU and Columbia.
  3. Non-market family housing owned by UBC employees: This is obviously desirable and crucial for the university’s ability to recruit and retain faculty, in a city that has one of the highest real estate prices in the world.  However, its implementation starts presenting a few challenges.
  • How do you ensure affordability for faculty/staff while allowing them to build equity?
  • How do you make sure that non-market housing stays in the long run within the UBC workforce?

There are many different schemes trying to do just that. All have advantages and flaws that need to be sorted out. Stanford and UC-Irvine seem to have successful systems. UCLA’s seems to be a failure. The jury is out on the scheme currently used by UBC. This is because of our adoption of a hybrid system (involving both market and non-market housing). With the help of several North American colleagues, I will try to detail in future blogs the various plans available in other universities.

4. Market housing that is available to anyone who can afford it: This is obviously the most lucrative option for the university’s coffers, but presents however several challenges. Even though UBC would be leasing and not selling, it is a fact that ownership by people not related to the university is essentially an irreversible process, with a definitive impact on the spirit of the UBC community, the future governance of the UBC town, and on the direction of the traffic flow (in or out of UBC).

Short of the –unlikely– adoption of a model where only non-market housing is developed, the real question becomes:  What is the critical threshold of market housing that will tip the balance? This is a number that one should consider carefully, especially that some of the non-market housing –if not managed properly– will also end up as market housing a few years down the road. Only hard data can answer these questions. Stay tuned.

27 responses to “HAP Discussion”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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
    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!

  6. 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.”

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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”

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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…

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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).

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Both Cambridge and Oxford, faced with real estate prices beyond faculty salaries, have developed shared equity schemes:

  22. 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.

  23. 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”.

  24. 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”!

  25. 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 erica.frank@ubc.ca

  26. 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.

  27. 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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