A historic institutional housing action plan at UBC

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

For tenured and tenure-track faculty

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

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

For faculty and staff

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

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

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

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

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

For undergraduate students, grads and postdocs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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