Student housing not included in new campus buildings

New residential developments won't be aimed at providing students with a place to live

Concept art for TRU's new neighbourhood The Reach, which won't include new student housing. (The Reach)

Concept art for TRU’s new neighbourhood The Reach, which won’t include new student housing. (The Reach)

New housing developments on the Thompson Rivers University campus will not include any affordable student housing, according to Finlay Sinclair, president and CEO of the TRU Community Trust.

“We are not building a university. We are not building student housing. We are building a community,” Sinclair said.

The TRU Community Trust is the private development arm of Thompson Rivers University. Its goal is to build a community with vibrant retail, residential and commercial space called The Reach here on campus within the guidelines put forward by the campus master plan.

The trust’s website says that ideal buyers of the available units will be first-time homeowners or empty nesters. Sinclair said the units will be priced to match the average Kamloops market price for condos and apartments.

“It will be stratified and it will be at a market value that is affordable to Kamloops, or in line with the Kamloops market. If students wish to live there and there’s an opportunity, I’m sure they’ll have that ability,” Sinclair said.

According to a real estate market report by Canadian Real Estate Magazine, the average cost of a condo in Kamloops is $256,950 as of August 2016, while a B.C. Real Estate Association report on housing from August puts the average new home for sale in Kamloops at a market value of more than $341,000, which is projected to rise to $349,000 by 2017. Tourism Kamloops says the median detached home price is $419,000.

Speaking to the housing developments at UBC, David Eby, the B.C. NDP housing critic and MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, said that because of certain factors, UBC is not subject to the same inclusionary zoning rules as other institutions in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and he says, “if they wanted to build nothing but market housing on long term leases they could do that and that’s obviously a problem.”

While UBC isn’t subject to the same inclusionary zoning restrictions that Vancouver is, it has, however, enforced its own rules for any new housing developments on campus grounds, which say that a developer must set aside a certain percentage of a building’s units as affordable housing aimed at accommodating those in the university community.

“Some of the things that UBC and SFU did, was try to build market rental housing into their development plans,” Eby said, or in other words, “rental housing for faculty and graduate students… [so] if they were doing 100 units of housing, 70 of them would be market housing and 30 of them would be subsidized in some way for the university community,” Eby said.

Because it is the TRU Community Trust constructing this new housing and not Thompson Rivers University itself, even if there was some regulation that universities must include student housing as a part of new housing development, Sinclair says the new housing development would not be affected by those regulations.

Eby also raised concerns that if TRU is not considering an inclusionary zoning strategy for this new private housing development, it would be of great concern, especially considering the current lack of student housing throughout the province.

“I would be surprised if TRU did not have some similar ratio,” Eby said.

“The idea is that for each ‘x’ number of units, a percentage of those are affordable to the community, and set aside for the community.”

Eby said he would encourage TRU to make sure a percentage of those units that they build would be affordable to university community members because there is no other way that housing is going to get built.

A report called the Kamloops Affordable Housing Needs Assessment, released by the city of Kamloops on May 8, 2013, showed that in the 2010-11 academic year there were at least 3,812 housing units needed beyond what is offered on campus.

Currently there are 1,188 dwelling units available between Upper College Heights, the Residence & Conference Centre, and McGill Residence for the approximately 13,000 students on campus.

The waitlists are often long for on-campus housing, and for students who opt to look to the broader community for housing, it forces students to commute long distances or rely on strained transit systems trying to accommodate the needs of university students and the broader community.

TRUSU Vice-President External Amber Storvold said in a brief email that, “student housing is an issue and it has been raised in the past, however the Students’ Union hasn’t submitted any proposals around student housing to the institution.”

The TRU Community Trust estimates it will develop more than three million square-feet of residential living space by the time the neighbourhood project is complete.