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Living at the University of British Columbia is going to get more expensive.

After a two-year rent freeze during the COVID-19 pandemic, the university plans to increase rents for on-campus residences by 3.5 to eight per cent depending on the unit, age of the building and amenities.

The rent hike will take effect on May 1 for students on year-round housing contracts and in September for students who start in the fall. About 13,000 students at the Vancouver campus and 2,120 students at UBC’s Okanagan campus will be affected.

That’s bad news for students who are already struggling with rising tuition and costs of living, said Eshana Bhangu, president of UBC’s Alma Mater Society, on Thursday.

“Students are taken aback with such a steep increase in rent,” she said.

“They’re having to choose between textbooks and tuition and additional rent, and many now have to take part-time jobs… and that is taking away from what they are here to do.”

Andrew Parr, associate vice-president of student housing and community services at UBC, said the university is sensitive to the challenges for students, but has a responsibility to manage its costs and be self-supporting.

“The sole source of funding that we receive to manage our operations and our costs is through rent,” he said. “We have to balance these two realities.”

The university’s objective is to keep rent as affordable as possible for students, but it needs to cover operating costs, Parr explained. It had run deficits the last two years while labour and costs for maintenance, utilities, services and supplies have risen due to inflation.

UBC is also committed to building 3,300 new student beds in the next decade, and needs funds to cover increased borrowing, development and construction costs, said Parr.

Further rent increases of about five per cent annually are planned for 2024-25 and 2025-26.

This year’s looming rent hike is significantly higher than pre-pandemic years when increases averaged around two to 2.5 per cent. It is also higher than the maximum increase allowed by the province for residential tenancies, which is capped this year at two per cent.

But student housing at educational institutions is not covered by B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act. Military housing and co-op housing are also exempt.

A spokesperson for the post-secondary education ministry confirmed institutions are responsible for setting student rental rates, most of which are below market rental rates.

“This exemption is critical for on-campus housing to be reserved exclusively for the use of students enrolled in post-secondary programs,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also allows institutions to deliver housing in a unique community-based living environment on campus, offering student support service and value-added amenities such as internet, utilities, and 24/7 security that a student would have to pay for themselves if they lived off campus.

Even with the increases, Parr said UBC’s rental rates are on par with other Canadian universities and about $225 to $350 a month lower than comparable units in the rest of the city.

Mackenzy Metcalfe, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said rising rents and tuition fees are a challenge for students across Canada.

Last month, UBC’s board of governors approved a tuition increase of two per cent for domestic students and three to five per cent for international students.

“Students are really feeling the pressure in their wallets,” Metcalfe said. “When rent or tuition is increased, students have to make up that extra money by working longer hours, which puts strain on them and means they have less time to study and pursue activities towards their post-secondary education.”

Metcalfe called on the federal government to increase grants for lower- and middle-income students to help with higher costs of living.

The AMS opposes the rent increases at UBC, said Bhangu, adding that any increases, if necessary, should be in alignment with the province’s two per cent cap. “UBC is a flagship institution in the province and B.C. A lot of us remain astounded why students aren’t protected by those caps.”

Bhangu would like to see UBC be more ambitious in its plans to add new student housing beds in order to ease long wait lists for on-campus beds. But it shouldn’t do it on the backs of students who are already burdened by heavy costs, she said.

“What students are finding themselves in the middle of is an affordability crisis, not just a rent crisis,” she said. “We expect a lot from this university. I think UBC needs to do a little better.”


Story by: Vancouver Sun