Future co-op housing not off the table as AMS develops housing service

The AMS is in the process of creating a housing service to help students to find affordable housing in Vancouver.

Affordable housing remains one of the largest problems facing UBC students, in a city where the median rent for a one bedroom apartment is over $2,000. Before the pandemic, residence at UBC was in high demand and waitlists were long, leaving students with the difficult task of seeking accommodation off campus.

This new housing service will be the AMS’s seventh student service, joining programs like Safewalk and the food bank.

AMS Student Services manager Ian Stone said the service will keep a database of rental, sublet and roommate wanted postings for student accommodations. It will also provide tenancy rights information and assist with landlord disputes, as well as a lease reviewing service and assistance in determining fair rent price.

Stone said the housing service was one of the results of Nest + Experience Survey administered by the AMS last January. Stone also ran for AMS President earlier this year on a platform of creating a housing service to tackle housing affordability.

The service is still in a research and development phase, headed up by newly-hired Housing Service Coordinator and fifth-year biology student Mitchell Prost.

Plans for the service are informed by the pandemic and by the COVID-19 survey conducted by the AMS in July, Prost said.

“There's lots of housing needs that are being unmet due to the pandemic, and lots of housing issues that our students are facing right now.”

Prost expects to submit a report to AMS Council on the feasibility of the project by the end of September, with a soft launch planned for December, but the COVID-19 pandemic may cause delays to the project.

"Spending is tough [right now], but we do see this as a really essential thing to spend money on because we think it'll help a lot of students in the long run,” Stone said.

Exploring co-op housing in the future

As part of the development process, the AMS has consulted with similar projects at other Canadian universities, such as the off-campus housing and job bank program run by the Concordia Student Union (CSU). This September, Concordia opened The Woodnote, a cooperative student housing project for CSU members.

Stephen Beker, a masters student at Concordia is Vice President of the project. He says the project began in response to a housing crisis in Montreal.

“In 2015, the Concordia Student Union … voted quite heavily in favor of trying to solve this problem, unaware that it would one day become the Woodnote,” he said to The Ubyssey.

While the currently planned housing service will simply provide students with resources and will help connect students, Stone said the AMS is “interested in looking at” having co-op housing like the Woodnote.

“I really want to emphasize though that this project is very separate from the new service ... it would be a much longer term project. We're going to see what the model would look like, how we would be able to bring that model to Vancouver,” Stone said.

“I can't really commit to anything as it’s such a large project but we are interested in seeing what the possibilities are.”