HAP Online Discussion Comments

Gary Rupert March 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm

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.

Assoc. Prof March 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

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.

Justine February 28, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I’m so happy to hear that UBC is hopefully getting serious about the issue of faculty housing. I have a number of friends who are on faculty at NYU, Columbia, and Stanford. For each and every one of them, their institution’s faculty housing program is an integral reason as to why they are there. Because Manhattan is such a peculiar case (many high income individuals fighting for a space on a tiny strip of an island), NYU and Columbia primarily provide heavily subsidized rental units. I’m not sure we in Vancouver are in exactly the same boat. My guess is that our situation is a bit more similar to that of the Bay Area; my impression is that Stanford’s program is more heavily tilted toward homeownership assistance.You also mention the issue of proximity to the university. Again, I have been told that this is crucial, as it frees up time (otherwise spent commuting) and aids in faculty productivity. At the same time, if we are to expand faculty housing on campus, it has to be done in a way that ensures that faculty housing is located in true neighbourhoods places that foster a sense of community; faculty ghettos are not the way to go.I would love to see UBC be bold and move in a similar direction to these institutions. And let’s be realistic here; being bold in this situation does not mean taking on risk it means being forward-looking. Oxford University in the UK also owns large swaths of residential properties, reserved for faculty. Among the folks at that institution, there is a favourite saying: the University has never lost money in real estate.

Elif February 28, 2012 3:57 pm

I am excited to see this interest in addressing both the needs of faculty, and those of students. There are 2 things I’d like to add:(1) One of the ways UBC is consistently criticized in evaluations of the student experience here is the lack of community students find here. My students LOVE that I live on campus. Most years I host at least one dinner for students (in smaller courses, of course) at my apartment; I am readily available to meet graduate students when needed, and in the new Community Service Learning course I did this year I was on hand to work with undergraduates to assist in their community-based work. And, simply put, students are just thrilled to run into me and my young son on the way to the pool, on campus. UBC needs to create a sense of community here, on campus, within the University community. Selling to the highest bidder, unaffiliated with the University, not only does not serve such ends, but is diametrically opposed to them.(2) Attention must be paid to the QUALITY of faculty housing. If one looks at the more recently built housing for faculty on campus, the rooms are getting more and more cramped. I am being forced to move from faculty housing that is older, into housing with SMALL, unopenable windows and smaller rooms; and we are moving into what is the nicest of the newer buildings. I wouldn’t live in most of the apartments I have seen, in these newer buildings. As a result of what I’ve seen, I doubt we’ll stay on campus much longer to get more room, prices rise *dramatically*, and it just doesn’t make sense to pay that much rent on campus when cheaper rental housing is available even in Point Grey/Kits, let alone farther east. (One should compare what one gets in UBC faculty housing with one gets at Columbia in terms of quality and expense there is no comparison.)

Quality of life matters to faculty, too. The Board of Governors needs to think about such quality if it wants to create a real interest in living on campus among faculty, and a real alternative to what our other option is: living far from UBC (this is particularly the case if we EVER want to consider buying). As noted in your post, this only creates more traffic coming to and from the University, and makes me less accessible to my students.(3) Issues around the lack of daycare and quality issues at U Hill elementary (I don’t know about the high school) are paramount. When my son was younger, I was living on campus (literally right next the UBC daycare facilities) and had to drive off campus every day to bring my son to an off campus daycare, because I came here when my son was 3 and was too low on the waitlist. That is just plain silly. And most parents of students at U Hill elementary routinely bring their kids for after-school academic enrichment because the standards at the Elementary School are low. A bit shameful, for a school on a university campus. Best wishes for your fact-finding mission! AM

Yatisca February 28, 2012 3:53 pm

We need affordable housing for students and staff more than we need a shiny Skytrain or another cluster of apartments that are being snatched up on the market faster than you can blink. I hate to break it to you, but this UBC Line issue is way beyond the scope of our little UBCtown. Fact is, Broadway is Vancouver city’s busiest west-east arterial, and the number of buses serving it (9, 17, 99) just don’t cut it anymore. It’s not just UBC students using the 99 in rush hour, but business people, residents of Kits, and basically anyone who needs to get from the western part of Vancouver onto the Canada Line/Skytrain.In fact (if I may dare to say this), it may be because of the amount of space city planners have given to BOV lanes that cause this congestion. Take away the busiest route (99), and replace it with a system that is grade-separated from other forms of traffic (UBC Line). The result: faster travel time from end-to-end as opposed to the current bus system, more lanes for automobiles, local students being able to live at home as opposed to having to shell out money to live on rez, and an improved transit system mirroring Vancouver’s busiest west-east arterial.

Michael February 28, 2012 1:00 pm

I’m glad to see that UBC is seriously addressing the major housing issues that faculty and students face. I believe that on-campus housing for students is a major aspect of building a student community and a more enjoyable student experience. Many of my students complain that there is little campus spirit or community feeling and that they feel lost in this huge campus.

Dormitories, or at the very least smaller community houses that students are assigned to and where they can spend their time between classes and have intramural activities (house sports teams, social events, etc.), would be a huge improvement to the overall campus experience.I agree with the general spirit of trying to provide more options for faculty to live on campus, but I worry that this housing plan will overlook the interests of the many faculty who do not want to live on campus. Part of what attracts world class faculty to UBC is the fact that the university is in a city. Although more shops, cinemas, and cafes will go a long way toward creating a community feeling, they will not be able to duplicate the vibrancy or diversity of living in or near downtown Vancouver, and will retain a suburban feel. I am all for providing options for faculty who want to live on campus, but not at the expense of those who do not. The university needs to continue and improve its policies of subsidizing housing options for faculty who want to live outside of the campus.

C.K., Assistant Professor February 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm 

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.

Marce Franz, Professor, Physics January 28, 2012 at 9:37 am 

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.

anonymous new professor January 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm

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
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
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!

Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 11:56 am

Re: UBC Staff & Faculty Demand Study (McClanaghan & Associates) commissioned by Campus Planning.
I did not attend the housing forum, but recently had an opportunity to review the UBC Staff & Faculty Study. As read this document, I came across one particular section where I found an error with respect to the salary range of UBC full-time staff.
Page 7, Section (g) UBC Rental Portfolio Rent Levels states: “Virtually all fulltime staff earn more than $40,000…”

If it was the intention of the author(s) to say that virtually all fulltime staff who responded to the survey only earn more than 40,000, then that should be clearly stated. If that is not the intention, and the author (s) were making the assertion that everyone employed fulltime (unionized or not unionized) by UBC earns more than $40,000, then that is an incorrect statement. I know this to be the case, because I, along with a few other fulltime unionized staff members do not earn this amount.

When a study such as this one is made available online for public consumption, then it is important to be absolutely certain that not only is the material clear and concise, but ensure that facts are in fact accurate and truthful.

Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm 

I attended the forum last week and came away perplexed.

In my experience a development plan has a schedule and a budget. I saw neither of these in the presentation.

I, like many who spoke at the forum, have a young child. Every day my child takes up more and more of the limited square footage in which I have to live. If affordable housing (in whatever form it takes) is six months to a year away, I may wait. If it is five years away, or more, then that information may inform my decision to continue working at UBC. The lack of a timeline and a clear commitment to meet concrete milestones to deliver the program was disappointing.

Similarly, the response from the panel that a budget has not yet been established for this program is discouraging. If there is a $10 million dollar commitment over the next 10 years to fix the housing problem at UBC that says one thing. If there is a $50-$100 million commitment over the next 5 years, that tells a different story. Providing no information at all indicated that the plan is not well developed and a real solution for the people in that room is a long ways away.

I would argue that giving people a list of options on which to comment, without giving them a timeline or budget in which to frame that discussion, is not a great way to manage the expectations of the stakeholders. Hopefully we will see these missing components soon.

I.P., Staff, Faculty of Arts January 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm 

I was unable to attend but my supervisor did. He came back quite discouraged. One sadly obvious display of UBC’s real attitude to it’s lowly employees was the lack of any checkbox for “Staff” on the feedback forms. Faculty, emeriti, student were included but clearly UBC feels “Staff” does not even rate for contributing to the discussion. I do wish they would either commit to real action or stop even calling it Faculty and Staff Housing. I do think the centre is concerned with attracting the best and brightest faculty but look at admin and support staff as easily replaceable and thus can either suffer the commute or work elsewhere. Just call it Faculty Housing and be done with it. It’s very depressing.

Marce Franz, Professor, Physics January 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm 

I was unable to attend the forum but I heard enough from colleagues who did attend to be disappointed and discouraged by the options that were presented. It is clear to me that to forestall the severe housing crisis that is currently brewing at UBC a wise and bold action plan is needed. I very much doubt that anything short of committing the remaining land to protected faculty/staff housing will make a significant positive impact. I also doubt, unfortunately, that UBC top admin will have the resolve for such a bold action.

We hear that even very senior hires (dept heads, CRCs) are unable to afford reasonable housing in Vancouver. We hear that junior faculty members are leaving UBC because they have no hope of finding adequate housing. If this is not a crisis then I am not sure what would qualify.

We hear that Board of Governors approved a new round of densification of housing on campus. This to me sounds like a code word for more luxury highrises. I personally know of no UBC faculty or staff member who lives in one of the existing luxury highrises. In fact, strangely, despite living on campus for the past ten years I don’t know ANYONE who lives there. Why in the world would we need more of these? How does the resulting `Lexus community’ contribute to the long-term strategic vision of UBC as a world-class university?

Number of contributors already stated this but it is a key point and I will reiterate. What we urgently need on the UBC campus is sensible housing — mixture of low-rise apartment buildings, townhouses and green spaces — that is attractive, *affordable* and *permanently restricted* to UBC faculty and staff. What we absolutely do not need is more market housing. We have more than enough of the latter and it has not helped to resolve the crisis. We have none of the former and it is desperately needed.
So, as with many things in life, it is quite clear what must be done. Will we have courage to do it?

Bill Holmes January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm

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.”

Doug Bonn, Professor, Physics and Astronomy January 19, 2012 at 7:26 am 

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.

Eugene Barsky, Library January 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm 

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!

Science associate professor January 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm 

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”

Tai-Peng Tsai January 19, 2012 at 10:46 am 

I am a professor at the math department. In the forum yesterday I learned that usually a housing unit is rented or sold to a faculty/staff at a discount no more than 20% of its market value to avoid triggering benefit tax. This discount is not sufficient for many. I suggest to set a housing district solely for faculty and staff. No general public in the district. Then the market value is not that for Vancouver but that for UBC employees, and you can rent/sell them to UBC employees at no discount of the market value at all. There was an argument yesterday that a survey suggested many faculty/staff prefer to live in a neighborhood with stores etc which need general public residents. My view is that the survey results would change dramatically if the survey was conducted only among those who cannot afford to buy a house in Vancouver, and this group of people in fact should have higher priority in the UBC housing plan.

George Sawatzky January 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm 

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.

Barbara Arneil January 18, 2012 at 9:34 am 

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.

Thomas Tannert January 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm 

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.

Anonymous January 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm 

You can easily buy a nice detached 2500sqft home for $1m in Bel-Air, one of the most desirable communities in the entire country. This is easy biking distance to UCLA.

Anonymous January 17, 2012 at 8:59 pm 

Housing in Boston is not terribly expensive. The houses within 10 minutes walk north and west of Harvard are indeed expensive ($2 million and up), but there are plenty of affordable neighborhoods nearby: Central Square for younger faculty, Somerville, Watertown, Arlington, Lexington for families with kids. Two of the most expensive towns are Wellesley and Newton, and even they are far cheaper than Vancouver. You can quite easily find a stately detached home in any of Lexington, Wellesley and Newton for around $1 million.

Harvard also benefits from being on the subway line, so it is easy to commute in from practically anywhere.

In summary, housing in Boston is quite reasonably priced, especially relative to the high incomes there. Excellent public transit makes it easy to commute from inexpensive neighborhoods.

Anonymous January 17, 2012 at 8:51 pm 

“It also helps in obtaining favorable mortgages, while the one-off payment of $40,000 assists them in securing a mortgage.”
In the US you can get a mortgage at around 3.5% locked in for 30 years! Nothing like that is available in Canada — you typically must refinance after 5 years. Another way to say this is: every mortgage in Canada in an ARM!

I would be fairly happy to take a mortgage at 3.5% in the US (after all, with inflation at 2-3%, the real interest rate is near zero). I would not be happy to take a substantial mortgage in Canada and subject myself to interest rate risk.

If UBC can get us a mortgage rate locked in for 30 years, I’ll call that a favorable mortgage. Anything else is not terribly useful. Anyone can already get a near-zero real interest rate mortgages locked in for 5 years at any bank.

Faculty of Education January 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm 

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.

L.V.W, Faculty of Science January 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm 

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…

George Sawatzky January 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm 

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.

Ian Affleck January 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm 

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 house.

Prod Laquian January 10, 2012 at 8:53 am 

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).

Young-Heon Kim December 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I think it is reasonable to restrict eligibility of faculty and staff housing only to those who are actually working in the university. Of course for retirees (or similar cases), the university should give them an enough time period (say 5– 10 years) before forcing them to move out from the university housing. This restriction should also be applied to the faculty owned university housing. I think there should be ways to implement this kind of restrictions in technical level, without conflicting with the right of private property. For example, make sure the university has to buy the unit, at the rates these are to be sold (e.g. less then ??% than the market value) at the end of elligibilty term.

Young-Heon Kim December 28, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Regarding the question “If appreciating is fixed, how do you ensure people keep-up their homes?”.

This looks to me not a major challenge.

For example, we may employ the system that most condominium complex are doing: charge monthly maintenance fee that includes saving toward later main repairs. This seems especially applicable if a group of housing units are built at the same time.

Thomas Beyer December 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm 

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.

Thomas Beyer December 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm 

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.
a resident not affiliated with UBC December 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm 
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.
C.H., Assistant Professor, Science November 4, 2011 at 7:30 am 
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.


Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 6:40 am

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

C.H., Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science November 4, 2011 at 7:30 am

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.


Thomas Beyer November 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm 

To make housing affordable it has to be VERY DENSE, i.e. high-rises OR accessible by rapid transit. UBC needs both, however not everyone wants to live in a high-rise such as those planned on S-Campus which is not very family friendly.

The BEST SOLUTION is a high speed rail based subway / train system connecting into the existing Canada Line at Broadway/Cambie and SkyTrain at Commercial/Broadway [and later along 4th Ave to Kits & downtown direct, and 41st through Kerrisdale]
Later, to connect to (be built) subway lines to W-Van, N-Van and Fraser Valley (Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford, Mission)
The UBC campus is on a peninsula that has to be connected to the Metro Vancouver area WITH URGENCY. Vancouver trails other Asian or European cities by a mile or 10 ! You cannot expect cheap housing when housing close to Vancouver is expensive ! You have to go further out .. but also provide high density solutions on Campus.

The S-Campus plan is sub-par, but a start. It lacks vision, it is too dense, it has no view tower, it has no sub-way, it has no streets wide enough for cars .. it shows the poor planning capacity of UBC Campus Planners. They need more international talent, folks that have done it before. Those you can find in Europe or Asia, maybe GTA even.

Faculty of Science Professor November 2, 2011 at 9:20 am 

Prof Averill: “I support the analysis you mentioned of our competitors in high-cost markets (NYC, Stanford, U of T, etc.) but we should balance this with the publics (U Washington in Seattle, Berkeley, CUNY, etc.) to get a different spin on the financing.”

Don’t bother looking at Seattle. The average home price is <$350k.

Faculty of Science Professor November 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm

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”.

Hossein Rafighi October 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm 

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”!

Erica Frank October 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm 

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

David Klonsky, Assistant Professor, Psychology October 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm 

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.

Martin October 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

Thanks for allowing us to comment. I propose we fire the campus planners due to their incompetence.

Housing is too crammed and too unaffordable on campus. I tried it, it is ludicrous — seems someone took a normal blueprint for my apartment, stuck it into a computer, multiplied it by 0.5 and then built it. The result was a pathetic little box good enough for a rabbit, but not a human.

Then there is campus street design. Those planners should not only be fired, they should be sued for wasting the time of thousands of users of this community. It is impossible to get around campus (unless you walk) or find places (cabs never find my building). Can UBC perhaps hire planners NOT specialized on building obstacle courses? Why can’t they design a campus that functions? I am really puzzled.

jesse October 11, 2011 at 11:00 am 

OK so providing some affordable housing on campus is noble but there’s a scaling problem here. First how many units would need to be built to house faculty and staff in affordable housing? The effort seems to be gargantuan at first pass, the university can only currently house a fraction of its denizens and can only dent the problem.

It’s also true that many people are unwilling to live in campus-provided housing and want something more than a cramped townhouse or condo, and that dream is decidedly out of reach for anyone not already invested in Vancouver real estate.

If UBC is serious about providing housing solutions for its faculty, staff, and students, it needs to start dealing with the stark reality, that the city the other side of the Park is in a giant speculative housing bubble and for the most part unaffordable by mere mortals or those unwilling to bet on perpetually low mortgage rates. UBC has become an island surrounded by expensive housing not in any way indicative of the salaries awarded the residents of the city itself.

By advocating for a change in housing policy in the city — increasing density through an aggressive zoning regime — much of the strain on UBC Endowment Lands planning can be ameliorated. This will no doubt be hugely unpopular with those entrenched in low-density housing in one of the world’s most desirable cities, but like other lower-density neighbourhoods of generations past — the Kitsilano, Fairview, and West Ends of yore — the low density areas close to UBC need to be rezoned or UBC will continue to suffer massive strains to its budgets and land-use plans.

jesse October 11, 2011 at 10:41 am 


Faculty of Science Professor October 11, 2011 at 7:24 am 

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:

Anonymous Assistant Professor October 9, 2011 at 10:37 am 

With limited tenure-track faculty jobs at top-tier research institutions, UBC will always be able to attract some of the best and brightest minds from the research pool of applicants. As an assistant professor at UBC, I am able to advance my research program, attract fantastic graduate students and postdocs, and become a leader in the research field. Its a great starting position!

I came to UBC (fairly recently) knowing full well that I would never be able to afford a house or even a two-bedroom condo somewhere within 30 minutes of campus (which is the maximum I would consider commuting). When interviewing, every person I met with discussed the housing issue, particularly since several young faculty from a neighboring departments had recently left (or were in the process of leaving) for a more affordable location. Yet, faculty salaries, having a spouse with a second income, and (currently) having no kids, certainly make renting in Vancouver a viable option in the short term.

In my opinion, times have changed from the past where you take a job and stay for 30 years. Faculty move institutions all the time now. UBC is a fantastic stepping stone for launching a research program, getting tenure, and staying attractive to future institutions (with more affordable living). Perhaps high turnover due to housing is the new normal at UBC? But perhaps UBC adopting a high turnover policy isn’t such a bad thing.

The current situation allows young folks to come in for ~ 7 or 8 years and launch their careers. UBC is still able to maintain its reputation as a top research institution by continuously recruiting fresh young faces to their departments and young faculty get a starting position. Everyone benefits! Once these faculty have growing families and housing needs, hopefully they will have developed reputations in their field so that they can move on elsewhere.

Of course, I recognize it is relatively expensive to continuously provide start-up funds and paying moving expenses for young faculty. 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. This type of two-tiered system is what they have at many of the private Ivy league institutions in the States. Young faculty at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford are expected to turnover, and senior eminent faculty are carefully selected (and paid for) to maintain the long-term reputation of the university.

I am certainly not going to live in 540 sq. ft. for 16 years like K.B. mentions. I am also not going to complain that Vancouver is so expensive (when I knew that before I took the job). But why should the university sell a multi-million dollar property for a fraction of the cost just so a faculty person can live there?

Young faculty should be happy to spend a few years at a top institution like UBC, exploring all great things the city of Vancouver has to offer, and then simply move on to another institution when their family needs demand it.

Jess H. Brewer October 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm 

Marcel has it right. UBC may say all the right things about providing faculty and student housing, but when push comes to shove with the developers, UBC is complicit in real estate bubble speculation.

Years ago when the first new on-campus developments started selling, we all started getting spam advertising from the developers; I complained and demanded to know where they got the Email lists. Someone’s head should roll for providing those data. I was told that they must have just read them off our websites. Since then the influx of real estate spam has steadily increased until today I get half a dozen per day; obviously the lists were sold by UBC’s developer friends.

This is yet another example of the glorious outcomes of unrestricted “free enterprise”!

UBC must show some spine and ban speculators from purchasing new housing on campus, while there are still a few unsold properties remaining.

Marcel Franz, Professor of Physics October 7, 2011 at 4:48 am 

I would like to echo the comments of a previous contributor identified as “E.” on what is happening to the new market housing units being built on the UBC campus. My wife and I visited some of the presentation centers for the newly erected condominiums in South Campus. On the opening day it is not uncommon to see people there (presumably agents) buying several units at once. My wife once witnessed a woman negotiating purchase of 7 units! Of many people who visit these presentation centers, very few look like UBC faculty, staff or students.

I can provide no hard data on this but there is no doubt in my mind that in the recent years large portion of the new units built on the UBC land is snapped up by investors and real-estate speculators. If UBC is to resolve the housing crisis that looms large for its students, faculty and staff, this practice must stop. The remaining land must be used wisely and strategically to address the housing problem in a way that will be sustainable in the long run.

Faculty of Science Professor October 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm 

Vancouver is in a massive speculative bubble fueled by:
– massive debt at absurdly low interest rates
– CMHC’s moral hazard
– cheerleading the bubble in the mainstream media due to the financial clout of real estate companies and real estate boards
– collusion of politicians due to the financial clout of development companies and real estate companies
– wealthy immigrants (in a few market sectors)
– fear of wealthy immigrants due to a lack of reliable data about their impact

The real solution that is needed is for the bubble to pop. UBC cannot control the destiny of the bubble, other than by lobbying the federal government, and realistically this would not help.

The most important actions needed are:
– stop pretending that the primary cause of the housing problem is anything other than a bubble
– stop pretending that the housing assistance package can counteract the bubble
– develop on-campus housing which cannot be speculated on, thereby sheltering UBC employees from high prices
– densification of Vancouver neighborhoods near campus

Building condos on campus and selling them on the open market to speculators may have helped the endowment, but it hasn’t helped UBC employees. It has simply altered the demographic of the campus and added more fuel to the speculative fire.
Densification of areas near campus (West Point Grey, Dunbar) is a key part of any realistic solution. This will be a major challenge due to Nimbyism. Basement suites and laneway housing are NOT effective densification — this promotes amateur landlording, which is a waste of time.

Other people have commented on the housing provided by other universities like Columbia, NYU and Stanford. It is important to be aware that the high prices in those areas are justified by local salaries, whereas Vancouver is simply in a speculative bubble.

Thomas Holloway October 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm 

In 1997 I considered applying to UBC as an undergraduate. At that time tuition was half ($2500/year) what it was in the rest of Canada ($5000). I looked at it and realized that despite the massive tuition subsidy I would be better off elsewhere because rents were so much lower. Things have gone from bad to worse to much worse. That is just looking at rents, which have been fairly contained by, shock, the ability to pay. The pressure comes in non-monetary ways on renters including scarcity of units and quality of landlords.

Advice to students: consider U of A, McGill, McMaster or U of T.

Advice to policy makers: lower prices will solve all this. Sounds crazy, but it isn’t. Question the belief that higher prices are (at all) useful to society.

J.D., former postdoc, Faculty of Science October 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm 

The lack of affordable housing on the UBC campus is nothing less than appalling, if not morally criminal. A majority of students shouldn’t be spending multiple hours each day just to get to and from campus.

DFW rates could be greatly reduced if students could actually join the campus community and take full advantage of the support offered there.

And saying that the rental space on campus “below market” price is ridiculous. Just because it is slightly below the absurd “average” Point Grey price is an obvious way for the school to make as much money as possible under the extraordinarily thin illusion that they’re offering a deal.

E.October 6, 2011 at 9:15 am 

Between us, my husband and I have studied at/worked at UBC for 20+ years. Recently we had hoped and been led to expect we could get into on-campus housing, but we have been on the waiting list for months and have not even gotten near anything. I’ve just read that waits for certain campus apartments can take up to 3 years, whereas on a UBC sponsored website I’d seen as recently as this spring someone at UBC Housing was saying that one could get housing fairly quickly here! My husband and I spent 3 frantic months this summer trying to find a rental near UBC. I won’t go into the details, because I’m going to write an article about it, but 95% of the landlords we were in touch with could not give us any guarantees we could stay longer than a year or two. The answer to our questions about how long we could stay was that it would “depend on the market” — i.e., that these were properties owned by investors and speculators who would sell when the market rose or fell. One property manager for 15 places on the West Side told me point-blank that “The days of being able to rent for 3-4 years in Vancouver are over.” A huge percentage of the real estate near UBC is apparently now owned by either overseas investors or local speculators. And UBC itself appears to be happily and obliviously selling off much of its housing to the same. At the newest (overpriced) condo building at UBC, the builder’s rep said 99% of the sales were to overseas clients. (When I reported this to one of the campus housing planners, it came as startling news to her.)

I’ve been writing my MLA, City Council, UBC, and other people in a position to possibly do something about all this and I would strongly urge anyone at UBC who has similar concerns to do the same. I’ve said that I don’t understand why Vancouverites aren’t marching in the streets about housing here. Maybe if UBC faculty and staff decided to strike in order to force UBC to hurry up and do something, that would be effective too.

A.F, Associate Professor, Science October 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm 

When I moved to UBC, the faculty housing assistance was not sufficient for me to enter the housing market. The assistance options have improved slightly since then, but are only available within the first seven years, and I am no longer eligible. Meanwhile, the housing prices in Vancouver have become prohibitive, having doubled to tripled over this relatively short time. The UBC Village Gate Homes rentals on campus are very nice, and are extremely convenient, even though the rental rates are not really subsidized. With the rents going up each year, this is not a realistic long term solution. The co-developments provided some help (to some) in the short term, but with re-sales to the general public, they don’t solve the long term housing problem at UBC. It would be helpful to provide more subsidized rental housing and to eliminate the time restriction for the housing assistance program, to allow for more time to save up for a down payment. I like the University Town concept, but the south campus developments so far are not a place I would want to live, since there is too much concrete and too little foliage, with most buildings facing straight into other buildings. Having more trees, and a variety of trees, interspersed between buildings would make this a more livable and much higher quality environment. Being familiar with the Stanford and NYU faculty housing models, the magnitude of the market developments on the UBC campus, and the complete lack of housing with re-sales restricted to faculty/staff have always surprised me. Thank for you for bringing the housing issues to the forefront.

Karie October 03, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I am an admin A M&P and I have worked at UBC for 12 years…I bought out in South Surrey b/c it was somewhat affordable 8 years ago…I would like to buy a 2 or 3 bedroom near UBC, but with a mortgage payment of probably about $3000/mo, and with take home pay of $3100, that is obviously not affordable.

To get here I need to either drive or bus, and both options take alot of time and money…

45 min drive (outside of rush hour) and 15 min walk each way, $15 in fuel roundtrip, $10 in parking (total $25 each day x 20 days = $500/mo, plus insurance and wear and tear on the car…total time of 90 mins + 30 mins walking x 20 days = 40 hours per month of travel time)

1:30 on the bus, 2 buses, 15 min wait time and 15 min walk each way…$8.20 rountrip (total $8.20 x 20 days = $164/mo and 80 hours per month of travel time)…and dealing with speeding and rough-driving bus drivers, and during the school term, probably not getting a seat and having to stand for 3.0 hours per day….
Also…getting into UBC sometimes feels like getting into fort knox…there is never enough parking (can sometimes circle around for 25 mins looking/waiting for a spot)…and we are expected to walk everywhere…wasting unnecessary time….
my two cents…

Egor October 03, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Asking 1750 dollars a month for studio appartment when Post.Doc. sallary is about 35 000. (2400 a month after taxes) You people are insane.

I was paying 600 dolars for appartment in center of the city in switzerland.

You should build new housing instead of UBC golf field, now one neeed it anyway.
Yves Tiberghien & Darrin Lehman October 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm 
The idea, of course, is to find a way to settle faculty for the long-term thereby removing housing insecurity, while being realistic about Vancouver’s real estate situation. Hence the idea of shared ownership or shared equity, in which UBC would retain a portion of the ownership and rights over profits/residual.

The long list of arguments about why housing insecurity for faculty is a big cost for UBC is well known, and has been repeated for many years. Perhaps not all that many faculty up till now have left UBC for this reason, but it is likely to happen in the future.

Additional Thoughts

Giving up control of the land today (de facto sale with a very long lease) for non-educative functions seems an inefficient use of this precious asset. Land is the key asset for UBC, and hence these 3 thoughts:

A. The temptation to cash in today is great, but the value will be even higher tomorrow – perhaps we should hold off relinquishing control?

B. Perhaps the land can be used more productively if it can have multiplier effects? By using it for recruitment and retention of top faculty, for example, it may cost less than paying in other ways. Also, any use that has educational/productive functions may end up better serving UBC’s long-term interest.

C. Are we missing an opportunity to build a forward-looking footprint? The University of Tokyo, for example, is developing a prototype city within the university as a Zero-emission sustainable community. Many people perceive that UBC Properties Trust is doing the opposite, with large $2M homes in gated communities (or absentee homes used for speculation). We realize that there’s now a push toward smaller, less expensive units on campus (but the price tags are still beyond many faculty members’ means). The gain in image that UBC could have with environmentally-sustainable Co-Op models for its community could be significant. It could attract much positive attention and credibility, and there are many such intangibles that could be gained from being more creative and forward-looking. The question is are we getting “full” value for what we are selling? What will it look like in 20 or 50 years?

Today, faculty (particularly those with children and without the financial means to buy) have the choice between living a precarious life renting off-campus (usually far away) and imagining some kind of co-development on campus. Comparing the 2 options indicates that it’s not just about money:

Advantages of faculty living on campus 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.
– more available for evening classes and evening events with students
– more available for graduate students
– more productive (not wasting hours in traffic or moving homes given the unstable rental market)
– less pushed toward doing consulting and other money-earning activities outside campus
– more stakeholders of university life in a holistic way, caring more (as opposed to just staying home and parachuting in 2 times a week to teach and drive off)
– more rooted with long-term commitment to university as a life mission
– faculty retention (losing top faculty who are without the means to get into the housing market)
– recruiting the best faculty (currently, when candidates with children interview, everyone sort of lies to them. They ask about housing and people say: “Oh, you can rent. It’s nice living in Vancouver.” No one wants to tell them that there is no small house under $1M within a 20min drive. They discover this sooner or later.)

Providing faculty housing is partly how Stanford grew from nowhere in 1960 to elite in 1980. Can UBC do a better job tackling this problem? It’s OK to have rental housing for junior faculty arriving at age 26 or 30 without kids. But it’s not going to cut it for 40+ yr old tenured faculty still fighting against housing insecurity, unable to put down roots. There has to be hope, a future.

We know several faculty whose behaviour changed dramatically once they moved off-campus. Owing to traffic and the loss of efficiency in terms of writing, 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 incentives became too strong. 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. In sum, 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.

Some faculty can afford to purchase homes on campus, and they wouldn’t be in favour of restricting re-sale and transfer of title.

But for other faculty (especially those with families), the only way to make housing affordable is to create a version of the Stanford model (i.e., have UBC retain some of the equity and profits). Have we really examined Stanford’s models seriously enough? Might a task force be struck to learn all the facts of the Stanford models, and how a version here *might* be workable? Or could there be possibilities along the lines of the University waiving the land taxes and levies and/or covering the sales tax? Might these be constructed so as not to be taxable benefits?

Wyeth Wasserman, Professor, Dept of Medical Genetics October 2, 2011 at 3:20 pm 

Since arriving in 2002, I have explored a variety of approaches to faculty housing.

For three years I lived in rental housing at Acadia Park. While the building was poor quality, the location made up for it. It is a real pleasure to live and work in close proximity to the campus. The many proposals in this thread for a massive increase in affordable, quality rental accommodations at UBC would be a great first step.

In 2004-2005 I worked with an outstanding group of faculty and staff to promote a grassroots effort to create a sustainable housing project following the Danish concept of “Co-Housing”. In such a model, the residents actively seek to interact and participate in community, while the legal framework is a standard strata model. There was widespread interest in the project, we explored the idea with the UBC administration of that time, and we heard many supportive words. Unfortunately the ultimate powers were unable to offer a suitable site in a timely fashion and the group disbanded. About half bought into the second co-development project. Many found the building ill-suited to their needs and most are or will soon be selling their units at market prices to non-UBC buyers.

In 2005 I elected to partner with another faculty member to buy a house in Kits. By choosing a duplex-like house, we were able to divide the space and live as neighbours. It was a risky move, but worked out well. Our partners outgrew their space, and we sold the house earlier this year. (We could not afford to buy them out, as the prices had gotten too high.)

As of now, my family is renting a house on the west side. We remain interested in participating in a housing project at UBC. We would only participate, however, if we felt it would be of high quality and had a strong potential for an interactive community. I am working with a small group of faculty to revitalize the co-housing proposal.

Any significant progress will require that UBC makes a real commitment of land. It was my impression of the previous administration at UBC and UBC Properties that such a commitment was not possible. They insisted that land be leased at market prices. Hopefully the will for action has grown.

Joanne October 1, 2011 at 11:55 am 

In addition to extending the timeframe for eligibility for the faculty housing assistance program, I would like to suggest that the housing eligibility program be applied to existing mortgages in the lower mainland. As long as the mortgage applies to the primary residence of the faculty member, the housing assistance program should be eligible. Internal/local hires are basically exempt from the housing assistance program because of the current rules and the housing situation is no easier for these faculty.

G.T.T. October 1, 2011 at 9:36 am 

I commend the Administration for taking on this challenge and allowing input in an open an free forum. As an Assistant Professor that was recently recruited to the University, I feel like I have no hope of supporting a family and purchasing a house in Vancouver. I lose a great deal of sleep over trying to make ends meet in Vancouver and I feel this is holding me back from making research and education advances at UBC. I believe housing is only a symptom of a systemic problem at UBC: very poor support of young academic faculty.
Some Issues:
1) Existence and treatment of grant tenure track faculty. UBC has and continues to refuse to contribute to recruitment and retention (e.g. Housing Assistance Plan) of grant tenure track faculty even though we are expected to contribute fully to the UBC experience and often bring in more in grant overhead and resources than those on hard money. This inequity breeds contempt and bitterness and enforces a classist environment within the University that is not conducive to collegiality.

2) Salaries. UBC faculty salaries are, on average, $30k less than those at the University of Toronto yet housing in Vancouver is, on average, 25% higher than that in Toronto. Toronto has it correct in that they pay their faculty ~30% of mean house price (a well accepted ratio for income to house price) and UBC should strive to do the same. If this means building inexpensive, high-quality housing for faculty on University lands or elsewhere in Vancouver this should be done. Otherwise, high quality, stable long-term rental solutions should be made available throughout the city. With current price:rent ratios it seems like this would be the most cost-effective way to help the majority of new faculty members.

3) The Faculty Housing Assistance Program should be scrapped and all new recruits should receive a 1 time signing bonus. This bonus could be used, no strings attached, to purchase a house, rent a house or invest as a faculty member sees fit. Giving insufficient funds solely for mortgages in the current Vancouver housing market, while not providing these faculty members with sufficient salaries to pay their mortgages, is irresponsible.

4) Retirement. The loss of mandatory retirement has significantly impacted the ability of Departments to recruit and fund hard money positions and to pay equitable salaries to young faculty that cannot possibly afford to settle in Vancouver. In my mind this is the biggest issue UBC faces going forward; especially in light of the recent report that BC residents are the longest-lived in Canada. Most of the individuals that are currently tenured received tenure when they expected to retire at the age of 65. We should act to remove tenure at the previous retirement age and fund and maintain positions commensurate with academic productivity. Individuals over the age of 65 should be subject to biannual performance reviews and salary adjustments.

5) Collective bargaining. The University should make every effort to improve benefits and salaries specifically for younger faculty members who are just buying into the Vancouver market. Faculty members that have been at UBC for many years likely purchased homes for a fraction of today’s costs and annual increases should be focussed on those lower on the pecking order. Quick settlement in Vancouver will facilitate retention, forcing individuals to rent does not build a vested interest in staying at the University.

UBC must invest more in its young faculty if it wishes to recruit and retain world-class educators and researchers. Failure to do this will result in loss of highly qualified personnel but also a reduction in the potential of the faculty members that remain in their situation. In the end talk is cheap and solutions will not be.

Robert Rouse, Associate Professor, English October 1, 2011 at 5:20 am 

I have to agree with, and add further support to, the calls above for the scrapping of the arbitrary 7-year limitation on housing assistance. One of the complications of this in my case is that I am currently overseas on a year 7 sabbatical, and will have less than 2 months on my return to Vancouver to purchase a property if I wish to do so within the 7-year window.
Did no one consider than many faculty take their first sabbatical in year 7 (as this is the most financially sensible time to do so), and that this would cause such issues?

Eugene Barsky, Library October 1, 2011 at 12:24 am 

Building more flexible, long term rent housing on campus for UBC people is urgently needed.

In our own case, we would like to move to a larger 3 bedroom unit on campus. But there are not available , for almost three years now.

Housing needs to be flexible , allowing UBC people to move up and down their required space.

Renting needs to be long term, allowing folks to settle down and allowing their children to attend schools with permanency in mind.

Rent, currently charged by UBC Properties is around 15-20% lower then market. Why not making it 40% lower, allowing families to live on campus and promote sustainability by reducing commutes for 4 people a day!

Housing is indeed a major problem for our household and my congrats to UBC admin for finally starting to talk about it.

Anonymous September 30, 2011 at 3:46 pm 

I am a graduate student at UBC and my stipend is $21,000. I have to live one hour from campus to pay for rent that is $800 per month. After my health insurance and phone bill, I barely have enough money for food. This summer, I calculated that I could spend only $10 per day for food. To top it off, the on-campus housing is more expensive. Shouldn’t campus provide CHEAP housing for students? This makes me want to leave UBC…

SR, Library September 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm 

Previous posters have already made excellent points about UBC’s finite amount of space. Yes, building more UBC-affiliated only housing is a huge part of the solution, and we should get right on it, but eventually that policy will run into challenges. As our colleagues retire will they be required to move out to make way for new hires? If not, we need to consider building another pillar to the plan: rapid transit.

Almost everyone so far has posted about the misery of their commutes. I live in East Vancouver and I could drive out to Tsawwassen in less time than it takes for me to creep west in my morning bumper-to-bumper convoy of the damned. As a large and powerful institution I think we need to lobby much more vigorously for the extension of “real” (trains/subway) rapid transit out to campus – and not just along/underneath Broadway either. There’s a reason why 41st/49th/Marine are jammed almost to a standstill morning and night….

At least that way getting here wouldn’t be such a grim battle – taking some of the sting out of living so far from work.

Paul Mackisoc-Procurement Officer-Supply Management September 30, 2011 at 10:48 am 

Having a keen interest in modern, sustainable and green design for housing over the last 15 years I am wondering if the University has considered the use of modern prefab structures for individual and multi-family housing. We are not talking about mobile homes here but rather homes that are built at factories and shipped to site on flat deck trucks. These can be erected in 7 days, are modern, sustainable and very green with LEED certification as a minimum. Home prices have a wide range of costs per square foot but all offer incredible value. Here are a couple links:

L. Van Waerbeke, Faculty of Science September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am 

In a country where the housing market is artificially pumped up because mortgages are in fine insured by tax payers (through CHMC), and interest rates are abusively low, companies must take action to protect the interests of their employees so they can access housing.  The problem is particularly acute in Vancouver which has been in the top 3 most unaffordable cities in the world for the past few years. Until the government takes action to correct this absurdity, if it ever does, UBC should indeed do its best to make housing accessible to staff/faculty/students.

I concur with what was said so far, that is:

1) stop injecting campus houses/condos in the private market, which are almost exclusively bought by non UBC personnel, and therefore it participates to the speculation and housing cost increase.

2) create a parallel UBC housing market where sells/buys can only happen between UBC employees, a system like many universities around the world have, many of which in the US. With a properly designed system, UBC can actually financially benefit from this.

3) build massively new rental units (townhouses) for UBC families with unlimited stay time. Currently the severe lack of a decent rental market on and near campus represents a discrimination against people who decide not to buy. Other implications is that commuting time decreases life quality, causes stress, leaves a carbon footprint and impacts efficiency at work (because parents have to leave work early to take care of kids, etc…) If no action is taken, the housing situation in Vancouver will represent a strong drawback for attracting new students, faculty and employees. I think it already does. I regularly hear complaints from students about unaffordable housing. If I had known about the future housing situation back in 2004 when I was hired, I would have probably reconsidered my decision to come to UBC.

Kurt Huebner September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am 

The scissor effect in regard to housing prices in Vancouver and salaries plus housing assistance at UBC is getting bigger, and will probably continue to grow in time. Many of my colleagues who are since quite some time at UBC could buy into the market to relatively low prices and enjoy (nominal) windfall profits with which they leverage all kind of expenditures. People like me who only recently came to UBC are in a different situation and usually can’t afford buying a house, and yes, looking for locational options is always in our mind. Given the situation I would argue to get rid of two restrictions of the current assistance program. First, the time limit of 7 years does not take into consideration that this is not enough, on average, to save for the downpayment (that varies between 5 and 25%, depending on citizen status). Second, the geographical restriction seems a bit arbitrary to me.

Martin Dawes September 30, 2011 at 10:35 am 

If plans are being considered for more housing on campus then primary health care and educational resources for the families need to be shown to be part of those plans.

Selina Fast, administrative-support staff September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

I was disappointed when I tried to obtain rental accommodation on campus, because of the no-pets policy. There was not a single building on campus that would allow me to have my cat in the dwelling. This policy probably prevents many people from being able to live on campus, and I strongly sugggest that it be changed. Pets are important in many people’s lives. If building managers are concerned about property damage due to pets, I suggest that they simply charge an extra amount in the damage deposit for those tenants.

Margaret Ness September 30, 2011 at 10:13 am 

It is unrealistic to lump Staff and Faculty needs into one category. Your figures of 43% of Staff and Faculty earning $100,000 or more is 100% Faculty and perhaps a few rare senior M & P staff. Union Staff wages are nowhere near that amount even in senior positions. Offering housing whose rents are at fair market value for the city would be the only way a unionized staff member could afford to live here. I find it extremely frustrating that our needs are ignored year after year despite UBC saying it is trying to respond to our needs. I have yet to see it, so, put your money where you mouth is.

JKS, Faculty Dept of Medicine September 30, 2011 at 10:09 am 

This is also kind of short, but it sums it up: I now finally have a house that I can afford…in Squamish.

Eldad Haber September 29, 2011 at 11:50 pm 

Arriving to UBC 2 years ago from the US we found the dip in the US market while price increase in Vancouver to be much more difficult that we initially thought.

We were very frustrated from UBC policies that seem to incorage selling on-campus housing to retirees rather than to faculty. It seems that the current administration is thinking more about the short term profit than the longer term effect on UBC. I am hoping that this will change.

We finally bougt a nice house in east van. With the size of our mortgage, I will not retire before I’m 85.

Alan Hu September 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm 

Bravo for finally addressing this issue with a long-term perspective!

When I arrived at UBC from Stanford, the whole “University Town” plan was just starting. Given my experience with Stanford (similarly blessed with a large amount of extraordinarily valuable land in a very expensive real estate market), it was painfully obvious the plan was not in the long-term best interests of UBC. I do not fault the folks who pushed the “University Town” through, as UBC was desperately short of money, and they executed very well on a plan to convert UBC’s land wealth into endowment dollars. The failure, though, was a lack of long-term strategic vision, to see that buildable land at UBC was more vital to the University’s future, and faster appreciating, than financial assets in an endowment.

Co-development was a blatant, stopgap bandaid, with no long-term value. It appeased some faculty resentment, in a way that attempted to cleverly avoid upsetting Revenue Canada. But once the 5-year resale restrictions expired, these units flipped into the full-price open-market, selling to people who have no stake in the success of UBC.

Moving forward, with the precious bits of land we have left, and looking at the best practices of our peer institutions, there seem to be only a few ways to provide for the long-term health of the institution:

1. Sell housing on campus with perpetual covenants restricting ownership and rentals to UBC-affiliated people (e.g., what Stanford does). This creates a secondary real estate market, open only to UBC people, which therefore costs much less. To the question of why UBC folks deserve access to a special real estate market, the answer is that UBC faculty, staff, and students are what make UBC UBC. This approach costs UBC nothing in on-going operating costs, but does mean not extracting full market value for the land.

2. Build high-quality, long-term rental housing (e.g., NYU, Columbia) for faculty/staff. Again, UBC retains control of the land, to promote UBC’s long-term interests.

3. Raise salaries to be competitive for the top-tier people we seek to recruit, even if the face of our exorbitant real estate market.

The only alternative would be to allow UBC to slide into mediocrity, as the talent pool from which we can recruit shrinks into nothing. (Granted, there will always be a few independently wealthy folks who would enjoy being professors, but not enough to sustain a great university.)

Rafeef Abugharbieh September 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm 

Having just come back from sabbatical leave, I can certainly attest to the difficulty of finding good and affordable housing in Vancouver without having to commute for hours or being a millionaire. Three ideas that make a lot of sense have been suggested by others and I concur:

1. Eliminate the 7 year limitation on UBC housing assistance program. Why force anyone to buy at a specific time that does not work for them (in my case, the deadline coincided with the time I was about to start my first sabbatical leave abroad).

2. Offer an equivalent to the university mortgage option for off-campus rental. Why treat renters any different than owners.

3. Stop adding market housing where people who have nothing to do with UBC move on campus forcing the people who actually work on campus to commute/drive for hours.

Thanks for considering solutions to this very serious problem.

Nando de Freitas September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm 

Very recently, I lost a dear and outstanding colleague to Oxford. He confided that one of the main reasons for him moving was that Oxford offered him the opportunity to own a home near his work (The university partners with faculty to ensure they can own a place near campus). In Vancouver, he could not see how he would ever afford a place for his family, including a newborn.
I too am about to start a family. I have been incredibly worried about moving from my small apartment to a bigger place. Paging through the real estate ads is depressing. It is clear that my salary and consulting fees are simply not enough. In this sense, it is heart warming to read about colleagues with the same concerns and about UBC leaders trying to alleviate the problem.

Marcel Franz, Professor of Physics September 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm 

As many previous contributors noted, the cost of housing in greater Vancouver will very likely continue to rise and this is bound to eventually cause a severe crisis in the faculty and staff recruitment and retention for UBC. As a long-time campus resident and a participant in the co-development program I thought about this issue a lot and I now see only one solution to this problem — solution that will be meaningful in the long term that is. This proposed solution is actually quite simple:
“Dedicate *all* the remaining available land at UBC to faculty/staff housing. Unlike the co-development scheme, which allowed re-selling property to non-UBC market, restrict this new housing to the UBC faculty/staff in perpetuity. The owner can only sell to another UBC faculty/staff, for as long as the property exists.”

Such a scheme would naturally keep the prices within the affordable range, even if the market housing should grow out of reach. No more luxury high-rises and luxury townhouses; these currently sell for $1.6 million and up and are never bought by faculty or staff. Already there is enough of those on UBC campus and it is not clear what purpose they serve (other than perhaps contributing to the endowment in the short term). What is desperately needed here is more low-rise apartment buildings (like Clements Green, Keenleyside) and sensible townhouse complexes (like the one along East Mall). A mixture of such housing, thoughtfully designed in the range of 1-3 bedrooms, 4 perhaps for townhouses, would definitely be attractive to faculty and staff at various stages of their careers.

If this approach is to make a difference then it is essential that it be done on a large scale so that eventually there is a vibrant market in UBC-only housing. This should make it available to a large fraction of the UBC faculty and staff who are interested in living on campus. In the South Campus neighborhood there is probably still space for several hundred (or thousands) such units, a number that can make a real difference in the long run.

My prediction is that if a plan similar to the one outlined above is not adopted very soon, in 20 years the only people living on UBC campus will be rich folk not affiliated with UBC and retired UBC faculty/staff. Everyone else will be commuting from Cocquitlam, Delta and the lucky ones perhaps from North Van. This is what happened to the single-family houses around UBC and it will happen again with all the condos and townhouses on campus, if we do not act very soon.

Catharine Winstanley September 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm 

I have to commend the university on improving its housing assistance program to new faculty from 10K to 50K. However, I know I’m not the only one who saved up the 5% downpayment needed and bought a condo literally the year before this new program came in, at the peak of the market. The complete lack of grandfathering in to the new program has been a very bitter pill for me to swallow. $50K applied to my mortgage would be a life-changing amount of money. Now that I am starting a family, I need more space, and it would be stupid of me not to consider other locations in Canada and beyond.
Asst Professor, Faculty of Arts

AnnaLisa Meyboom September 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm 

I compliment the university on addressing this issue so directly. I agree that the difficult housing circumstances are causing a loss of good faculty and also causing a large amount of stress to existing faculty and their families (because I am faculty I am commenting on faculty concerns).

I would like to bring up the issue of pets. I have two children who want a dog – a situation I would say is normal in North America. UBC does not provide any faculty housing that allows pets. This is a rather ‘anti-family’ policy I find. I would recommend the university allow pets in any future housing.

I would also recommend implementing a solution that allows people to ‘feel as if they own a house’ – i.e. have autonomy over their own space and the ability to stay there as long as they want to. Especially in North America there is a stigma associated with renting and if you want to make the UBC situation on par with other universities in other cities where real estate is affordable then this would be the goal, in my opinion. UBC may not be able to make real estate affordable but you may be able to make people feel as if they have something just as good. Currently what is being supplied is not at that level but with a bit of creative thought with all the intelligence around, I’m sure we can get there.

B. Pfeiffer, Faculty of Education September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm 

My frustration has grown since 2004, until I just decided to lose any hope that UBC Trust would care about people working on campus and any hope to ever own a place. There is only so far some one can go with the mounting frustration of seeing high end condos built on campus everywhere out of reach of a family of 4. Even the condos built for faculty/staff were unaffordable. Townhouses built for faculty/staff are now back on the market at more than a million dollars. I look at other options in other cities every year.

The idea behind UBC town was to improve our carbon footprint, but the numbers of cars on campus has kept increasing, with more and more people commuting both ways.

In this difficult housing situation, UBC needs to build rental units that can accommodate families and are affordable (i.e. townhouses). There are only very few of these and the waitlist is more than 3 years long. Rental units allow families to adjust house size to their needs (toddlers/teens/empty nesters). They allow families to pay a premium for a small yard when children are little. They also allow a bigger turnover than houses for sale. And, most of all, they prevent speculation. Such units do not need to be on campus, even if this is preferable. The model used for family student housing at Acadia residence is excellent, however inaccessible to faculty and staff.

Hanh Huynh September 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm 

Having read the comments from my colleagues, I could not agree more with them. Two things I like to suggest:

1) Foreigners should not be allowed to buy properties on UBC land. The developed housing should ONLY be available for people who work for UBC.

2)Eliminate the 7 year limitation on UBC housing assistance program because with the current market status, it is not possible for UBC staff and faculty to buy anything in Vancouver for many more years to come.

Hanh Huynh, Instructor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Gary Rupert September 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm 

I am a UBC resident and my experience is that UBC needs to be more responsible in ensuring that proper residential supports are in place before acting. Issues such as parking, noise, maintenance of roads, litter control, etc. need to be planned for and in place prior to initiating new projects. The UBC record is not good with regard to this.

I also suggest that supported projects need to have safeguards against exploitation by people buying subsidized homes only to flip them into uncontrolled rentals for profit. This activity is contrary to the intent and it works against a sense of community.

I.P., Staff, Faculty of Arts September 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm 

I’m glad the BoG is looking at this issue and I really appreciate the comments from faculty and deans. I know the University is keenly aware of the strain housing affordability is having on faculty recruitment and retention but my gut feeling is that staff will not be able to participate unless they are young and childless (or empty-nesters). My salary is competitive compared to performing a similar job at a non-profit or charity but Vancouver is just too expensive.

As a staff member with two young children I have been despairing for a while. My paycheque after deductions covers rent and both kids at UBC daycare ($1300 for 3-days/week) I am left with a couple of hundred dollars each month to pay for rising costs of food, clothing, vehicle expenses etc. We’re just able to make it with my wife’s part-time, self-employed income but if she doesn’t work (as happened this summer) we’re running up the line of credit with the bank just to keep food on the table.
As rents have risen and our family has grown we have moved further and further east. We rent a small, run down 2-BR East Van bungalow for a bit less than what a 2-BR apartment would go for on campus. We have privacy, space and a nice vegetable garden in the yard but it means I spend at least two hours on bike or bus each day commuting instead of with my family.

As long as UBC’s definition of affordable housing is slightly below west side of Vancouver market rates, most staff will be shut out. I don’t expect to have luxurious digs. We quite enjoy the simple life and our recreation is usually spent outside in nature. But I would really like to live where I work and have time with my family without constantly worrying about how we’re going to afford it or actually save some money for retirement.

It may be the case, and indeed is my suspicion, that UBC really isn’t all that concerned about housing lower-level staff. That’s fine if there is no business case for doing so. It’s a university and the priority should be students and faculty. However, if this is the case, I think staff deserves an admission of this in policy rather than have a commuting underclass continue to hold out hope that someday an on-campus solution will be found for them too.

Erika September 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm 

As a student, I am continually frustrated by the condos I see being built around UBC. Such high-end housing is not intended for students or faculty and disrupts the university environment. It doesn’t make sense for people who work or go to school at UBC to be commuting long distances and paying more for what the university could and should provide.

Dr. T. Aboulnasr, Dean of Applied Science September 27, 2011 at 3:53 pm 

Thank you for the presentation yesterday to the committee of Deans. This is a most timely issue and I am most appreciative of the board taking on this initiative. You are 100% right to not just think of maximizing financial profit from sale of land, even if that profit is re-invested in university budget. Maximum financial profit does not equal maximum benefit to the university in this case. Indeed, issues of community mix and transportation are huge. However, there are other critical opportunities/threats in how we deal with this issue:

1. Housing in Vancouver has been reconfirmed as most expensive in NA. This is indeed a factor in attraction and when new hires judge the offer, they factor that in. Indeed we have been hiring top people but it would be naïve to pretend we have not lost others or that the ones we have are not reconsidering as their families grow. I personally had a top person who left as soon as they had a child because they felt strongly about buying a house and knew they never would be able to afford one here. We need to see what our competitors are doing and level the playing field.

2. Your point about co-development being a fix for the specific hire but that the university loses out when the person sells and the next hire has to buy at higher process was bang on. This is not an appropriate solution.

3. Knowing my own situation, I can tell you that I, at my salary, would not have moved here if I had young kids at home because I would not have been able to provide them the same “home” facilities as I had in Ontario. Since my kids are all old now, moving to a condo made sense and made it possible financially but if I had a younger family, the discussion would have dramatically changed.

4. 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. I have been hearing that on a regular basis since joining UBC.

5. From a sustainability perspective, it makes sense for those who want to/can to live on campus. It does not make sense to have others who need to commute elsewhere live here.

6. The issue of rental is huge. It could very well be that we need to move from co-development to rental for Profs/staff; building units that can be permanent rented homes not just temporary ones. This avoids the “resale” issue of co-development that you raised. The university should seriously consider building those units and renting to profs/staff at costs that cover the mortgage / maintenance and some basic margin of profit but still slightly below market value. At least, people will feel they have an option. It would effectively be the equivalent of leased land where one regards the mortgage as rental.

7. The university should consider providing assistance to those who rent along the lines of the forgivable loan provided to those who can afford to buy. There is an inherent unfairness in the current system: if you are not rich enough to buy a home, we won’t help you. Senior recent hire raised this issue very strenuously. The person regretted not noticing this ahead to require assistance with rental vs purchase as a condition prior to coming.

8. While Okanagan is not as bad as here [Lower Mainland], it is still an issue in Okanagan.

Thank you again for taking this on. It is critical to attract the people we need in UBC to take us to the next level and to create a sense of community within those on campus and dissipate the sense of bitterness within those who cannot afford to buy on campus.

Charles Menzies September 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm 

Housing is of critical importance; but not just for those of us desiring to work for UBC. Housing is one of the single largest social issues facing our society.

So, as much as I appreciate the need (and have benefited from UBC’s attempts to address housing concerns of faculty) the focus on housing for a relatively well off segment of the workforce strikes me as an ethical quandary. Here’s the quandary: is it appropriate to use public funds to provide housing allowances and incentives that get bigger as the salary and importance of the individual correspondingly increases?

I would be willing to bet that if one were to plot annual income against home address of UBC employees that the general trend would be that those who earn least live further away from UBC then those who earn the most.

What does one do about all of this? I wonder when the majority of faculty earn more individually then the median household income in Vancouver whether cries for faculty and upper level administration housing are reasonable.

I say this knowing full well that unless I find some private sector supplemental income (or figure out a way to make it into upper management – both unlikely scenarios) that I’ll never really be able to buy a house anywhere near UBC (please note, house here means single family detached dwelling, not the convenient yet poorly constructed co-development townhouse that I bought from UBC). Nonetheless, the issue of housing requires a societal wide solution, not a piecemeal solution run by corporations and quasi-public institutions like UBC.

Housing, quality, accessible, and affordable housing, should be a right of every citizen of Canada: not a perk for working at one of the nicest public universities in Canada.

Darrin Lehman September 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm 

I was heartened to hear Professor Toope say that the housing problem is UBC’s greatest current challenge (he also noted daycare availability and partner accommodation as important issues).

Six years ago I triggered UBC’s most recent housing assistance effort (which Anji Redish eventually led through the President’s Office), which raised the level from $10,000 to $45,000/$50,000. I told the Provost at the time (Lorne Whitehead) that I was worried about UBC retaining many of the outstanding colleagues that had been hired over the past several years, and that I was particularly worried about Vancouver’s expensive housing market and the minimal assistance offered by the University (i.e., little more than covering closing costs).

Owing to an even higher Vancouver real estate market, my worry is still there. Many colleagues that we’ve hired over the past decade are highly marketable and moveable. I’d like to see UBC hire at increasingly higher standards, and this will obviously only increase retention pressures.

The University needs to invest more money in housing assistance for faculty, and it needs to do so in smart, efficient ways. We need to get as many good ideas on the table as possible (including ideas from Stanford, NYU, Columbia, UCLA, etc.), and figure out UBC’s best possible strategies along these lines. The more faculty members engage in this process the better, so please let your ideas be known.

We are fortunate to have both a University President and Provost who care deeply about faculty colleagues and their well-being. In turn, the Board of Governors has shown its willingness to commit resources towards improving the University.
Let’s work together to build a stronger and more sustainable faculty at this University by improving UBC’s faculty housing programs.

Gage Averill, Dean of Arts September 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm 

We are concerned about four types of housing: rentals and owned units ON campus, and rentals and owned units OFF campus.

• First, I feel strongly that the land resources of UBC should be managed from the comprehensive perspective that you’re advocating. These lands constitute a social good, and our planning should incorporate the need to attract leading faculty with competitive offers.

• I completely agree that permanently selling off the campus units, with the possibility of resale to non-UBC owners, is not in the interest of the university from a faculty and staff perspective.

• Therefore it’s reasonable to conclude that campus rentals are the more important strategic resource for faculty and staff recruitment. In addition we obtain a social benefit from the local residence of many from our community: it helps to build the commitment to UBC, reduces commute time (which strengthens families and provides for more disposable income in addition to diminishing our carbon footprint).

• Nonetheless, some faculty (and perhaps staff) we recruit will want to invest in local real estate and buy a home. We have just done this, although it is in far West Vancouver because we couldn’t afford anything nearby. I would support some kind of package consisting of either a no-interest contribution to a deposit or a mortgage credit of some kind. The overall benefit to the faculty member need not be as high as the subsidy for on-campus rental (since we see additional social benefits in the latter). In addition, it should probably include a penalty if the faculty member leaves before, say, five to ten years, and hence we might be able to improve our retention level a bit.

• However, an off-campus rental should have equivalent support from the University to the mortgage option. Otherwise it looks as though we’re privileging ownership over rentals, and I think we should be non-committal on this subject (and indeed, it would seem that to stress ownership, as Tyseer points out, would additionally privilege the higher paid UBC employees.

• I support the analysis you mentioned of our competitors in high-cost markets (NYC, Stanford, U of T, etc.) but we should balance this with the publics (U Washington in Seattle, Berkeley, CUNY, etc.) to get a different spin on the financing.
We will of course have a difficult situation with recently-appointed faculty members if we introduce a new system that will benefit future recruits only. We would need to give some thought to how to manage the optics if this system isn’t retroactive.
Thanks for your concern for this issue. I agree with many of my colleagues that even if this hasn’t yet caused a hemorrhage of our human resources, it threatens to do so in the future if this market continued to be as buoyant.

Vanessa Auld, Assoc Dean of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm 

To echo Simon’s comments on faculty and staff housing. During the recruitment process housing or the lack of affordable housing is the number one issue. It is common to every single conversation that I had with all our candidates regardless of rank. While the UBC Housing Assistance is pretty good in comparison to other Universities, most candidates realize that it is only a small drop in the bucket and good really only for a condo with a commute to UBC.

The lack of co-development or subsidized housing on campus is a huge issue given that the new condos are being sold on campus for $500K per single bedroom condo (which none of our junior faculty can afford). Most end up buying a condo some distance away and then computing to campus. I know of two cases in Science where junior faculty have left for other positions based purely on their inability to have a large enough home for their families within a reasonable commute time to campus. For faculty with children this is becoming a very large issue.

The housing issue also extends to staff who are in an even worse situation, with no housing assistance at all and of course no day-care priority.

Hope these comments are helpful.

Simon Peacock, Dean of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm 

In my opinion, UBC should adopt a broader view of how best to use its endowment lands to ensure that UBC is a great university in the future. While building the monetary value of our endowment is important, it is arguably even more important that we successfully recruit the very best faculty and staff to UBC and continue to do so in the future.

I recommend that we consider creative ways to use our endowment lands to provide affordable housing for faculty and staff. Given the extreme increase in Vancouver housing prices, UBC’s current housing policy (approx. $50k) 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 support exploring any and all on-campus housing options for faculty and staff (subsidized, co-equity…), as well as off-campus options, that could help address this issue.

In my experience, the affordability of housing comes up at some point in almost every faculty negotiation (recruitment and retention). In a couple of instances, housing was arguably the major reason a faculty member chose not to join UBC, or chose to leave. More commonly, housing is a “very significant” issue in most recruitment and retention cases and UBC operates at a considerable disadvantage relative to some/many of our competitors. Our top candidates in our professorial searches almost always have (and we should expect them to have!) competing offers from excellent universities.

UBC has many advantages that we can and do leverage to attract the very best faculty, but if we could truly “figure out” housing, we would be in an outstanding position to recruit and retain the very best and brightest. If we don’t figure this out, then the housing issue will continue to hurt us in recruiting, and particularly in retaining, early and mid-career faculty members, some of whom have young families or are simply fed up with the long commute.

Rachel Kuske, Head, Dept of Mathematics September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm 

Just a few notes from our hiring and retention:

All of our junior recruits have noted the housing costs in their recruitment cases. In most successful cases we have had to add top up to the UBC housing package, and we have lost candidates due to the difference in housing costs with many other locations.

These issues have also been key in retention cases:

With the loss of retention top-ups of salary, we have repeatedly needed to add housing $ to retention packages. Faculty always cite high housing prices and limited help from UBC as a critical issue.

Y.K., Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm 

I first thank you very much for taking this very hard task.
For myself, the point is to find stable and comfortable housing. The biggest challenge is a financial one. That is, in Vancouver, for a newcomer like me, it is very hard to accumulate enough funds for a reasonable mortgage within a reasonable amount of time not to be out-passed by the price increase. (In UBC area, I heard that two-bedroom units are currently worth about $0.7 million or more.) The University provides some support for mortgage, which certainly would help, but still it is not that critical amount to ease the burden sufficiently.

It will be great if the University provides relatively cheaper campus housing to own: of course, due to the lower price, it is unavoidable to have restrictions for selling, etc, but those are fine with me.

Also, as a family of four, we found that it is very hard to find a townhouse unit or three-bedroom apartment, rented or owned, unless paying a very high price.

We are living in a two-bedroom unit in faculty rental housing, and I am worrying about what to do when my small children grow up: they are growing very fast and the apartment looks smaller and smaller.

Beyond my personal interest, I found that the University had eliminated the rental faculty housing in the Acadia park to turn it into graduate housing units. The Acadia housing was a valuable option for new people, especially for visiting scholars and their families. Of course, there are already other rental housings for faculty and postdocs, but eliminating the Acadia option just gives much restriction for availability both for new faculty members and visitors. I wonder if UBC has an alternative option compensating the loss of Acadia units.

Leah Keshet, Professor, Faculty of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm 

Housing issues comprised the main reason that we lost an excellent prospective faculty member, Y. M., who we had made an offer to in computational applied math a couple of years ago. He liked the department a lot, but was not able to afford to get a place to live where he and his wife would be happy raising a family. They were priced out of the market. He went to U Minnesota instead. We lost out.

As I had written to the BoG a few years ago, we almost lost another collegue to housing issues (D.C.). Somehow that catastrophe was averted at the last moment by the head’s work. I think you will find many such stories among recent hires (last 10 yrs) 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.

T.T., Professor, Faculty of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm 

First a theorem: Due to a large influx of immigrants who desire to live in Vancouver, the housing price in Vancouver will grow beyond the reach of a new faculty with regular salary. This will soon become an obstacle for UBC to hire new faculty.
Building new units and selling to faculty at a discount does not help much because: 1. A price at 20% discount of the market value is still very high, and the discount portion is taxable benefit; 2. The land of UBC is limited and UBC cannot keep building news units.

Currently UBC is leasing land to builders to build housing, but is very vague on what happens after the lease expires. This vagueness will make it extremely hard for UBC to regain the land.

The previous UBC exercise of ‘codevelopment’ binds the owner (faculty or staff) from selling for five years. It does not bind the owner long enough, and UBC cannot do this indefinitely due to limited land. Moreover, Canada Revenue Agency does not approve of the idea and there is ongoing tax issue which may end up in court.

I had such a codevelopment unit. Because it was not market unit, UBC Properties did not bother consulting with the owner regarding the design. I see two problems:

1. Every ground level unit has a very large basement with no window. It may be ideal for someone who wants an entertainment room for music and movies, but not useful for people who want to raise their children.

2. Most ground units have only two bedrooms + a windowless basement. Most 2F-3F units have only three bedrooms. It is not enough for a growing family.

I think a major problem with the previous exercise is that UBC did not seek for LONG-term solutions for the faculty and staff.
It is desirable to have a district designed for faculty-staff housing only, without the presence of any market housing. In this way there is no market price to compare to, and the price can be kept under control.

An extreme way is that houses/apartments in this district can be sold only to people with UBC affiliation, or back to UBC. I heard that Stanford has such units. However, in the case of Stanford, old faculty don’t sell their houses until they die, and there are very few such houses for new faculty. Thus it has little effect on new hire.

My ideal for this faculty-staff district:

1. There should be a lot of apartments and townhouses, mostly for rental, some for sale. There should not be any houses.

2. The rental units should have a variety of sizes, and many different time scales: As short as four months for visiting scholars, as long as until retirement. There should be a lot of long-term units with 3-bedroom + den for family.

3. Owning a unit may be preferred for self-governance. If there are any units for sale, they cannot be re-sold to anyone without UBC affiliation. (This may have tax benefit since these units then have no market value.) In this case, there should be a lot of units with 3-bedroom + den to be a long-term solution.

Christoph Hauert, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I have a comment on UBC’s housing assistance program – please ignore if this does not fall under your task of developing a housing plan.

Anyway, UBC offers a housing assistance option of $45k as a down-payment helper. This interest-free loan is forgiven on a monthly basis over a period of five years. The amount forgiven each year ($9k) is taxable and hence amounts to a tax burden of ~$3.6k/yr (if taxed at 40%). Lowering the mortgage by $45k amounts in our case to a relief of ~$1.6k/yr (with a mortgage interest of 3.55%). So, strangely, accepting the housing assistance actually increases the financial burden by ~2k/yr in the crucial first few years. This may be no small issue given the incredible real estate prices in the Vancouver area. Certainly this should not be the intention of an assistance program. Of course, over time and, in particular, after the five years the advantages are considerable.

Please note that I do not want to complain about the housing assistance – I did the math beforehand and there were no surprises. Also, we greatly appreciate UBC’s generous down-payment helper. Essentially I just wanted to point out that while the housing assistance makes a huge difference in the long run, with the currently low interest rates, it fails to make housing more affordable on a shorter time scale. Of course this is just one aspect and other factors may come into play, in particular, if someone does not qualify for a mortgage without the additional down payment – but even then the housing assistance carries a not-negligible price tag.

Daniel Coombs, Associate Professor, Mathematics September 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm 

Here is a brief summary of our housing purchase experience in Vancouver:

2003 arrive UBC. 2004 look for a house. Kid #1 arrives; decide to rent for a bit longer and save $ for better place than we could afford at that time.

2004-2008 cost of acceptable house to purchase increases faster than our ability to pay. Period of frustration at that time.

2008 investigate positions elsewhere. Obtain great offers. Nearly leave. Stay at UBC after competitive retention raise is offered.

2009 combination of slight dip in prices, low interest rates, improved housing assistance program and increased salary mean we start looking again

2010 buy house (nice place near Fraser street). Notably just barely within the “seven years at UBC” time limit on the housing assistance program.

I suggest to immediately scrap the arbitrary seven-year rule. If we had missed that deadline and it could not have been extended, I think I would now be working elsewhere.

K.B., Professor, Faculty of Science September 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm 

This is kind of short, but it sums it up: After 16 years at UBC, I’m still living in 540 square feet.

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

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