Letter: UBC needs to provide affordable student housing

My experience with the Vancouver housing market and UBC’s housing services over the three years I’ve been enrolled here has been tumultuous.

I arrived in Vancouver amid the pandemic and spent two months in first-year housing before being shunted off to Fairview Crescent summer housing. It’s a beautiful place, and I would highly recommend living there — that is, of course, if the university doesn’t leave you with the rising panic of not knowing whether you’re going to be homeless or not. 

I spent four months on waiting lists for almost every on-campus residence you could think of, and I received no offers. In rising desperation, I sent an email to summer housing requesting an extension on my summer lease so I could figure out some sort of arrangement off-campus. 

Two weeks (and three follow-up emails) later, and in my inbox sat a short, bluntly worded email that, to make a long story short, said ‘Hell, no.’

I’m an international student from India — that’s just a short hop over the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, about 12,000 kilometres from the west coast. So not having a secure place to stay presented me with the very real threat of being homeless. That, quite bluntly, sucked.

I found a place to stay in the West Point Grey area with four days left on my summer housing lease. The rent was sky-high and the unit was iffy, but it worked out. I got out of there this past year and now live with a couple of friends in a four-bedroom in the same area. My landlord’s a reasonable person, and I’m doing fine. It turned out okay. 

But, not everyone gets to be that lucky. The Vancouver housing market is getting increasingly more competitive and expensive. Secure accommodation is not a given, and for those who aren’t domestic students, it can be even more unsure. 

When you’re a continent away from the place you grew up with no real ties to a very different world, it can get scary. I managed to settle in since this whole debacle, and the city, and this university, are a little more like home to me now. But to many people, UBC is all they’re comfortable with, and all they know. It’s a haven in the vast unknown. And a major factor that allows these people to feel safe is their access to secure, affordable housing. The pandemic forced UBC to freeze its gradual increase in rent rates. However, amid growing security around the pandemic, the university deemed it appropriate to lift the housing rent freeze and hike rent up, with new rates boasting a 3.5-8 per cent increase.

It’s funny because the way I found out about this wasn’t even through university channels —  it was an article from Global News that cited the university’s ‘deep empathy’ for ‘the affordability of education, shelter, and food,’ for its students. The tuition increase that listed a two per cent rise for all mandatory fees for currently enrolled students and a five per cent increase in tuition for all new international undergraduate students signifies none of this. Add the lack of affordable food that was protested this past year, and I find myself questioning the veracity of these statements. 

UBC needs to act in providing secure and affordable housing options to students living on campus. An exorbitant percentage price hike not only negates the security that the university owes to students paying incredibly high tuition but also rings alarm bells. And when you add this rent hike into the mix amid a very prevalent housing crisis that has taken BC residents by storm, you don’t get a very pleasant outcome. 

CTV News highlighted the plight of students in today’s housing climate, and it underlines everything I’ve been saying over the course of this piece. UBC is a place that houses the culture of a myriad of people who seized the opportunity to come here with incredible vigour. It lauds itself for its inclusivity. ‘Tuum Est’ roughly translates to it is yours. This past year has proven that frequently it falls to us, the people who learn and grow here to remind this university of its own motto. When you elect to drastically raise the financial stakes associated with attending university, you risk alienating the people who give you your identity. UBC is not a business model, it is an institution. And it is shaped by the people who attend it.

A Ubyssey article cited UBC’s housing action plan as “undergoing a ten-year review, with the potential for significant revisions to address the university’s growing demand for housing.” Andrew Parr, associate VP housing and community services, provided vague assurance that underlined a substantial improvement in policymaking — but he could not provide specifics, according to that article. The AMS has made its disappointment with the extent of the measures taken known. This isn’t surprising, considering Parr predicted even with 17,000 beds, there may still be gaps between housing supply and demand. 

With the ever-growing influx of new students coming in every year, we see a growing number of housing applicants having to deal with the fear of being displaced and potentially homeless. The AMS is unhappy with the way things are going. The student body has made its displeasure known. All that remains is for UBC to take this into consideration and take the necessary steps required to take care of the population it has invited into its vast halls. 

All that remains for us — those potentially impacted by this ever-growing issue, is to continue to make our voices heard.

Raghav Pathak is a third-year history student.

This is an opinion letter. It does not reflect the opinions of The Ubyssey as a whole. You can submit an opinion at ubyssey.ca/pages/submit-an-opinion.