My opening remarks at the UBC housing forum

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

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

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

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