The background: UBC essentially “controls” one of the most valuable pieces of land in North America. The challenge is to try to unlock the multi-billion dollars value of that land in order to support student, faculty and staff housing, create a vibrant environment around the university, and beef up the endowment, all without disposing of the land base, infringing on the academic zone, altering the academic character of the UTown, threatening the governance of the university, and creating a reverse traffic flow out of UBC.
Since the passage of Bill 20 in June 2010, UBC has been busy developing and implementing a consultative process for amending the current Official Community Plan (OCP), which is the “bylaw” that establishes general land uses and policies for the entire 1,000-acre campus, with a special focus on non-institutional development. The OCP had been developed in collaboration with the GVRD in 1997, and has been regulating the university’s land use since. The latest version of the proposed new Land Use Plan (LUP) can be seen here. There are many facets to the issue that I will address in a series of blogs. First, the context, as I understand it.
- Student housing: The LUP calls for doubling the number of students/beds on campus by 2021. This aspect is a slam-dunk, and a win-win situation. First because of its geographic location, UBC — more than any other Canadian university — needs to develop a substantial stock of student housing. Second, this type of rental remains in the hands of the university, and third UBC will be able to recoup its investment through rental income, but of course after an initial period where we need to borrow to build.
- Non-market Rental Family housing for Faculty and Staff: This is also a desirable investment, for the same reasons as students housing. This is a model heavily used by NYU and Columbia.
- Non-market family housing owned by UBC employees: This is obviously desirable and crucial for the university’s ability to recruit and retain faculty, in a city that has one of the highest real estate prices in the world. However, its implementation starts presenting a few challenges.
- How do you ensure affordability for faculty/staff while allowing them to build equity?
- How do you make sure that non-market housing stays in the long run within the UBC workforce?
There are many different schemes trying to do just that. All have advantages and flaws that need to be sorted out. Stanford and UC-Irvine seem to have successful systems. UCLA’s seems to be a failure. The jury is out on the scheme currently used by UBC. This is because of our adoption of a hybrid system (involving both market and non-market housing). With the help of several North American colleagues, I will try to detail in future blogs the various plans available in other universities.
4. Market housing that is available to anyone who can afford it: This is obviously the most lucrative option for the university’s coffers, but presents however several challenges. Even though UBC would be leasing and not selling, it is a fact that ownership by people not related to the university is essentially an irreversible process, with a definitive impact on the spirit of the UBC community, the future governance of the UBC town, and on the direction of the traffic flow (in or out of UBC).
Short of the –unlikely– adoption of a model where only non-market housing is developed, the real question becomes: What is the critical threshold of market housing that will tip the balance? This is a number that one should consider carefully, especially that some of the non-market housing –if not managed properly– will also end up as market housing a few years down the road. Only hard data can answer these questions. Stay tuned.
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