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The neighbourhood

The Issue to Analyze

The University of British Columbia is one of Canada's biggest post-secondary institutions. It is located on the western peninsula of Vancouver in the Municipality of Point Grey and has a student population of nearly 45,000[1]. With such a large student population, on-campus housing is insufficient and students are forced to look to the surrounding communities for housing. It is difficult for students on a tight budget to be able to find economincally viable housing in a city that has one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world [2]. The community of West Point Grey is the closest to campus, however rental rates are very high and with tuition costs rising, students are in desperate need of affordable housing. We will analyze the cost of living for students at UBC, the average rental costs in the West Point Grey (WPG) community and assess the need for affordable housing within close proximity to the university. We will also look at the long term community vision for WPG and how its affordable housing initiatives could benefit the UBC student.

The Community Boundaries

The West Point Grey community is highlighted in green.

The neighborhood under analysis is the West Point Grey area in Vancouver, British Columbia. The boundaries can be defined as follows:

- 16th avenue to the South

- Alma Street to the East

- English Bay to the North

- Blanca Street to the West

West Point Grey's neighbouring communities include Kitsilano to the east and Dunbar - Southlands to the south.


The Municipality of Point Grey located at the western peninsula of the lower mainland, was an area rich in many natural resources. In 1865, the first logging camps were set up and the highly forested land provided the cutting of many giant fir trees as an early economic engine for the area. In the 1870’s, many whaling stations were setup in the area, again exploiting this bounty of marine resource[3]. With its close proximity to densely wooded forests and ocean waters, these rich resources were highly coveted. They had provided for the native Musqueam people for generations. Not only was the area coveted for its abundant natural resources, but it also was a strategic military location. The northern shores of Point Grey were used by the native Musqueam band as a look out against attacking rival bands from the north. In 1921, The Canadian Government began construction of the Pacific Coast Station of the Royal Canadian Air Force at Jericho Beach[4]. This location was used by the Canadian Military to protect Canada’s west during both world wars[5].

The nomination of the Municipality of Point Grey as the location for the new university of British Columbia was made because of it’s beautiful natural surroundings, and its distance from the more congested, and growing, urban center of downtown. Many other cities in British Columbia made nominations for the location of the provincial university, including Kamloops, Nelson, Vernon and Alberni[6]. On September 25 1910, the Point Grey area was chosen as the new site for the university and thus the prosperity of the area was to be greatly boosted. In 1912, a significant building boom hit the area, with over $250,000 in building permits being issued[7]. This boom continued into the 1920’s with an increase in the number of retail shops on the area, primarily along 10th Ave. September 22, 1925, UBC officially opened its lecture halls to new students[8]. Initially families moved to the area to bring their children closer to the post-secondary institution, prompting a surge in enrollment.

The Hanning House is one of several heritage houses in the West Point Grey community. This photo was uploaded to Flickr by Bob_2006

Many families established homesteads in the area. Some of these original homes still remain in the area, and are preserved as Heritage Houses. The Hanning House (pictured left) is an example of a registered heritage house in the area. It was built in 1912 during the first building boom. In 1921, 3000 acres of the endowment lands were set to be auctioned off to raise money for the construction of the new university. However, as the great depression hit there was a decline in interest for the land. Consequently the development of the Point Grey area was stalled for several years. As the economy gathered a foothold again, the development of the area picked up.

January 1st, 1929, the Municipality of Point Grey, the Municipality of South Vancouver and the City of Vancouver amalgamated into what is now known as the City of Vancouver. This brought the Point Grey area into the jurisdiction of the City of Vancouver.

Housing & Income information

The West Point Grey area is a relatively low-density (average of 30 people / sq km) neighborhood, with an average of 2.5 people per household. The community is primarily made up of single family homes, duplexes and few mixed, low-density multi-family dwellings. The area is considered to be relatively "rich"; the average household income in the area is $105,404 – substantially higher than the Vancouver average of $64,899[9]. The average price of a single-family home in West Point Grey is $969,406 [10]. With residents that are highly paid and professionally educated, they have the ability to afford the expensive, single-family homes in the area. Property value in the West Point Grey area has traditionally been one of the highest in the City of Vancouver. This very high value of real estate makes the possibility of home ownership nearly impossible for citizens without household incomes well above the average.

Transportation infrastructure

Several Translink bus routes service this community. The #4, #9, #17, #25, #33, #44, #84, #99, #258 and the C19 routes provide transit access along major streets like 4th Ave, 10th Ave, 16th Ave and NW Marine Drive. There has been discussion in the past to extend the Millennium Skytrain line to UBC, running underground along Broadway Street. This was stopped short due to funding restrictions. The current proposal the Millennium Skytrain line continuing on to UBC has a completion date of 2020.Due to the potential disruption to the retail areas along the proposed route, there is much opposition from the surrounding communities. Many of those opposed to the UBC-Skytrain extension cite the difficulties that arose from the Canada line construction from 2005-2009.

Change in the Community

EcoCity Initiatives / EcoDensity

On June 10, 2008 Vancouver City Council adopted a new EcoDensity Charter which included a set of initial actions [11]. The EcoDensity Charter was enacted to make environmental sustainability a primary goal in all further city planning decisions. Further to just environmental sustainability, the new Charter also set out to support housing affordability and livability. The EcoDensity Charter was intended to move the city of Vancouver towards higher density housing, design and land use. By adjusting to a more compact city, carbon emissions can be reduced, housing costs can be reduced and the limited land resources can be maximized to accommodate a growing population more efficiently. Affordable housing is to be realized by increasing the supply to moderate housing prices, facilitate the construction of purpose-built rental housing, strategically planning the densification of certain areas and diversifying the housing choices (size, types, finishes, locations and tenures).

West Point Grey is zoned as RS-1 (One-Family Dwelling District), with some very small pockets of RM-3 (Multiple Dwelling District) and C-1 (Commercial Districts) [12]. The RS-1 zoning permits secondary suite construction to existing single-family dwellings. As per the EcoDensity Initiative, there should be a push for the conversion of these secondary suites in the West Point Grey area. Also, applications can be made to rezone an area to a CD-1 zone (Comprehensive Development District) to permit the construction of new medium density, multi-family dwellings [13]. These rezoned areas would still preserve the heritage and history of the area, which was expressed as a primary concern by the residents [14]. Although there is an initiative in place for higher density construction and a demand for affordable housing in the West Point Grey area, there was substantial community push-back to the idea of increasing the density of the West Point Grey community. (zoning map)

Community Vision

On August 18, 2010, the City of Vancouver released a Policy Report on the West Point Grey Community Vision [15] . The report was to evaluate the Community Vision and to make a recommendation on the approval of its mandates. The Community Vision was assembled by discussing CityPlan directions with the residents of the community in meetings, ideas fairs and a survey. The residents of West Point Grey marginally supported new housing types like duplexes and infills as well as Multiple Conversion Dwellings (MCD's) [16]. The community, however, did not support the idea of allowing new housing types to be built around parks, or to be scattered throughout single family areas. The residents of WPG feel strongly about the character and heritage of their community prompting them to be reluctant to allow new buildings in their area [17]. With many park areas, and a predominantly single-family dwelling zoning, this leaves very little space available for the construction of new housing types in alignment with the Community Vision. There was a substantial lack of support for new, higher density buildings like townhomes, conventional rowhomes, low-rise apartments (up to 4 storey) and mid-rise apartments (5 to 12 storey). Through its Community Vision, the residents of West Point Grey appear to be opposed to many of the directives for higher density housing set out by the EcoDensity Initiative. There's definitely a sense of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) in the WPG community. The issue of affordable housing is clearly identified by the residents (and the city), but few want the new developments to happen near their homes. This will continue to limit the amount of affordable housing options for students within a close proximity to the university.

Affordable student housing

UBC & Student life

The affordability and supply concern students face are tough challenges. The University of British Columbia does not provide a sufficient supply of housing to students, which has driven 65% of UBC students to seek residence off campus and commute. The high affluence of the West Point Grey area, has, however, driven rent prices to levels barely affordable for the majority of students. For students living under 20 minutes away from the University the average rent is a steep $969/month[18]. Even those commuting from an hour or less away rent is still $753/month on average[19]. The average student income will be substantially lower than even the average city income for Vancouver, given that students will work part time (due to time spent on studies), at generally unskilled tasks (which pay lower wages). The high cost of living in the area, driven strongly by the high rent costs burdened by residents, leads directly to students having to take on debt in order to finance their living and education. As a result the average student debt in British Columbia coming out of post-secondary education is $27,000 – the second largest in Canada. [20] The extreme nature of the housing prices directly correlates to this issue – and many students simply cannot afford to live in reasonable proximity to the university.

U-Town & UBC Land Use

U-Town is an initiative by the University of British Columbia and the Campus+Community Planning to create at least 50% of all new housing at UBC to have at least one occupant that studies/works on campus. This initiative is designed to reduce the community carbon footprint, reduce student stress and reduce student travel time to and from the campus. The University also intends to set aside 50% of campus land use for full-time students by 2030[21]. This should provide the necessary housing resource near the campus to enhance the student experience, and bolster academic performances. The challenge may be to keep both renters and owners happy. Owners will have to keep rental rates at affordable levels, approx. $500 - $800 a month, while potentially only being able to occupy the units during 8 months of the year. This may stress the ownership system and could require additional regulation to benefit all parties.

Issues affecting the student

The challenges highlighted here are leading to post-secondary education at the University of British Columbia becoming increasingly unaffordable for students. Although the university has implemented housing plans to try to address the issue there are many problems associated with these plans as well. Unfortunately, the Campus+Community Planning Process has granted development rights primarily to private developers whose focus is to maximize their return on investment. These developers face challenges with building student housing due to the high demand surge for the eight month period when school is in session, sharply contrasting very low levels of demand during the summer months. As a result, these developers have focused on building communities for higher income clients, leaving students with even fewer on-campus options for affordable housing. This issue of student housing in the UBC / West Point Grey area must be addressed due to affordability concerns for post-secondary students, and a rising average student debt.

Potential resolution

Government incentives

While the necessity of high-density housing in the West Point Grey area is required, many developers face the challenge of building houses at a low price point when the land cost is substantially higher than most other areas of Canada, let alone Vancouver. C.D. Howe Institute released a commentary[22], that provided some potential incentives that could help entice developers to introduce new, higher-density housing, while still being affordable in an area where the cost of property is restrictive. They pointed to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in the United States. This initiative provides tax credits to investors in low- and moderate-income housing projects. The LIHTC is run by the IRS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where as its Canadian counterparts, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) would be responsible[23]. The investors receive the tax credit for ten years where the projects need to be kept in low-income use over that time, permitting students the opportunity to afford housing. The proposed implementation of the LIHTC in Canada would require a longer, 30 year, period of low-income project guarantee. A minimum of 40% of the units must be deemed affordable to those with an income of 60% or less of the median[24]. This program could provide the incentive for investors to push multi-family, higher density projects ahead in the West Point Grey area.

References & Footnotes

  1. UBC Public Affairs - Facts and Figures (2008)
  2. 6th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (2010)
  3. West Point Grey Community WEBpage (2008)
  4. West Point Grey Community WEBpage (2008)
  5. Spenner Norman, Emma (Unknown Year) Point Grey Pre-University (pre-1890), Retrieved from:
  6. Spenner Norman, Emma (Unknown Year) Point Grey Pre-University (pre-1890), Retrieved from:
  7. West Point Grey Community WEBpage (2008)
  8. Hives, Christopher (1990) UBC Alumni Chronicle, Volume 44, No.3 Retrieved from:
  9. BizMapBC (2006) Point Grey Village Commercial Market Profile. Retrieved from: <
  10. BizMapBC (2006) Point Grey Village Commercial Market Profile. Retrieved from: <
  11. City of Vancouver (2008) Retrieved from:
  12. City of Vancouver (2009)
  13. City of Vancouver (2010)
  14. City of Vancouver (2010) Appendix A
  15. City of Vancouver (2010)
  16. City of Vancouver (2010) Appendix A
  17. City of Vancouver (2010) Appendix A
  18. Pablo, Carlito (August 19, 2010). Postsecondary student housing overlooked. Vancouver Free Press. Retrieved from:
  19. Pablo, Carlito (August 19, 2010). Postsecondary student housing overlooked. Vancouver Free Press. Retrieved from:
  20. Retrieved from:
  21. University of British Columbia Campus+Community Planning. Retrieved from:
  22. Steele, Marion & Des Rosiers, Francois (2009) Building Affordable Rental Housing in Unaffordable Cities: A Canadian Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. C.D. Howe Institute
  23. Steele, Marion & Des Rosiers, Francois (2009) Building Affordable Rental Housing in Unaffordable Cities: A Canadian Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. C.D. Howe Institute
  24. Steele, Marion & Des Rosiers, Francois (2009) Building Affordable Rental Housing in Unaffordable Cities: A Canadian Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. C.D. Howe Institute