UBC says it will keep the student housing rent freeze until BC lifts its own

With the government discussing the possibility of extending the freeze on rental increases until the end of 2021, UBC has committed to mirroring the extension until the province lifts the ban on rental increases.

Students living in residence don’t receive the same protection from government support programs as other residents, which includes the freeze. UBC student housing does not fall under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) which means that even if BC does extend the freeze, the same benefits do not automatically extend to students.

The initial rent freeze came into effect on March 18, 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was extended until July 2021 in November of last year. Talks are now underway for a second extension to prevent illegal renovictions and provide stability for renters.

However, for students such as Charissa Purnomo, the extension of the freeze could mean the difference between remaining in residence, where she has lived for three years, or moving off campus to find a more affordable living situation.

A third-year English major, Purnomo has suffered the financial strain of the pandemic. She was fortunate enough to find employment after losing her job last year and said the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit was helpful, but acknowledged fellow students have not been so lucky, especially international students who were not eligible for benefit.

“If they aren’t as lucky as me and able to get a job then that’s a big issue, and international students already pay so much tuition,” said Purnomo.

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Andrew Parr, associate vice-president of Student Housing and Community Services, recognized the financial strain on students.

“We know that affordability of education, including the cost of shelter, is a challenge for many students. I can assure you all the Student Housing will not be applying a rent increase until such a time as the province lifts the freeze, despite realizing increasing costs of operations over this time,” said Parr.

The AMS has been in talks with the government to advocate for students to be included in support programs going forward.

When campus residents were left out of the $300–500 monthly rent supplement program last year, AMS VP External Kalith Nanayakkara expressed student’s concerns.

“That’s when we initially started pushing the government saying that it’s unacceptable that students living on residence were not included for the support program, and we pushed them saying that any future programs should include students. And that’s what we’re doing right now with the rent freeze as well,” said Nanayakkara.

Nanayakkara said the government response from MLAs David Eby and Coralee Oakes has been positive.

When lobbying for student support, Nanayakkara said that being included in the RTA is not the end goal, but rather to ensure support programs like the rent freeze are extended to people that may not be covered by the RTA.

“Living on campus residence is only for UBC students, and under the RTA you’re not supposed to discriminate based on factors like that. And that’s just one of the many examples as to why on-campus housing isn’t under the RTA,” he said.

However, students say the continuation of the freeze would ease their concerns and they hope their voices are heard.

“If UBC really cares about its students, they’ll at least do the same thing as what the government is doing, because we’re just people that have to pay rent like everyone else that pays rent,” said Purnomo.