'Just more on my plate': Students stressed to find housing on, off campus

Limited housing around Vancouver has left many UBC students scrambling to secure a home for the upcoming fall term.

Students have taken to social media to voice their discontent with the arduous and distressing process of searching for housing — both on campus with UBC housing and off campus with the Vancouver housing market.

Chhavi Mehra, a first-year graduate student in the UBC School of Journalism who recently moved to Canada from India, said the experience has been “disheartening.”

Mehra has been looking for housing since July on platforms like Facebook, Kijiji and Craigslist. She said that after contacting over 65 people and receiving only a few responses — none of which have turned into a viable accommodation — she feels like she is “running out of options.”

“Not having housing is so anxiety-inducing because this is just more on my plate in addition to preparing to take on a grad program,” she said. “The first thing I do the moment I wake up in the morning is look for housing, and it’s just been really, really stressful.”

Mehra said that her options are also limited because she is new to the area and lacks the connections that could help her land an offer more quickly. She also said she has safety concerns as a woman that further restrict which offers she is comfortable pursuing.

Andrew Parr, the associate vice-president of Student Housing and Community Services, said UBC had extended the period to cancel winter housing offers for free in July in an attempt to open up in-demand residences.

“Demand for upper-year units for winter session, by both new-to-UBC and continuing students remains high,” he wrote in an email to The Ubyssey in July.

While some speculated that UBC extended the cancellation period because it had overallocated winter housing offers, Parr clarified that “[UBC Housing] decided to extend the deadline by which students could cancel their contract without penalty … to encourage students who had decided not to move in, to let [them] know as soon as possible, so rooms could be offered to students on the waitlist.”

According to Brian Deng, a third-year science student, the offer of free cancellation for winter housing didn’t change anything. Waitlisted for housing in his second year, Deng was eager to be among the first batch of students to receive a housing offer for the upcoming winter terms.

“When I first got [the email], I didn’t think much of it. I wasn’t planning on canceling [my housing offer].”

Parr acknowledged that “the housing and rental market in Vancouver is a challenge for UBC students, staff and faculty, and the university is working as hard as possible to meet that challenge.”

“Since 2011, the university has invested more than $634 million in new student housing developments, adding 5,555 new beds to our campuses,” he said. “UBC has more on-campus housing than any university in Canada and is among the top student residence providers in North America with more than 15,000 beds on both campuses as of spring 2022.”

Parr also pointed to the online resources offered by UBC to assist students in their housing search, such as lists of available tools and platforms, things to look for when renting and reminders about utilities and renter’s insurance.

Mehra said she wished the university could provide more “active instead of passive support,” noting that despite the online resources that she has received from UBC so far, she still feels like she is “on [her] own.”

“I wish to have someone who can actually guide me through the process … [like] being paired with an advisor who can check in with me,” Mehra said. “It’s hard to initiate these interactions on your own.”

When asked about what the AMS is doing for students amidst the housing crisis, President Eshana Bhangu pointed to the student society’s call for a 2023 rent freeze that has the support of 304,400 students, an Emergency Housing Toolkit that is currently in the works and the peer support and education workshop opportunities that are offered to students by the AMS Housing Service.

“While [we’ll] continue to support students throughout this stressful time, the university and the government have the responsibility to step up,” she said. “The university should aggressively build more student housing on campus . . . [and] the AMS is interested in seeing how Vancouver municipal parties plan to build more housing and prioritize affordable non-profit options to assist our student body.”