AMS raises concerns about ‘botched consultation’ on Housing Action Plan review

The AMS has once again raised concerns about “botched consultation” from UBC. This time, the issue is over the five-year review of the Housing Action Plan (HAP) — a process that also highlighted gaps in student housing strategies from the society’s perspective.

According to AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes, UBC didn’t give the AMS a chance to review the final changes to HAP before proposing them to the Board of Governors (BoG). This concern is also formally outlined in the society’s January 30 submission to the February 6 BoG committee meeting.

“We did relay to the administration that we had additional changes that we wanted to be included, and we’re really disappointed to see that the administration didn’t share the final plan with us but said in the docket that we approved of the current changes,” said Holmes.

“I can say categorically that at no point, we said we approve the changes.”

UBC wrote in a memorandum that the final draft was shown to the AMS during a January 17 consultation meeting — one of four meetings that took place between the university and relevant student groups like the AMS, the BoG student members, the Residence Hall Association and the Graduate Student Society.

Holmes responded that the drafts “were never presented as final documents or final changes.”

“Even after the last meeting, we said we were going to send a report detailing further changes,” he wrote in a message. “The final changes were on the Board docket the week we said we would send our report.”

UBC also said it was surprised by the submission’s recommendations on housing strategies. The recommendations both expand existing policies on the university’s bed target and the shelter allowance in BC’s student loan program, as well as introduce new strategies on university related market rentals, rent-geared-to-debt and annual average student housing price increase caps.

The university wrote in the memorandum that these “were not brought forward for discussion” at the meetings.

BoG student member Kevin Doering doesn’t support this account.

“I wasn’t at every meeting, so I can’t confirm the details of what was explicitly said, but the main ideas the AMS touched upon in their submission were raised over the course of all discussions,” Doering wrote in a message.

“Hoping for an ambitious plan”

Following the February 6 BoG committee meeting, only the recommendation on restricted university-related market rentals for students was approved to be further explored.

Intended to be complementary to on-campus housing, the university-related market rentals are suggested by the AMS to be counted as only half a bed each because they wouldn’t be as affordable or guaranteed for students as the former. The society also recommends that there should be enough restricted rentals to accommodate up to 20 per cent of the current full-time enrolment population.

“We are hoping for an ambitious plan that would really tackle a lot of the issues that students face,” said Holmes.

“I don’t know why in this particular plan, university-related housing is not included. … It seems like a blunder to not include a very important type of housing in the Housing Action Plan.”

And while UBC VP Students Louise Cowin has expressed support for the proposal, the university also noted in the memorandum that there are “significant land use, demand and financial implications” to its implementation. Accordingly, its details will be explored outside of HAP.

Most of the remaining recommendations that request major additions were not adopted in HAP’s final changes, due to mainly financial challenges.

For instance, the AMS requested the target for on-campus beds to be increased from 50 per cent of the 2010 full-time enrolment to 50 per cent of the current full-time population, a jump from 16,500 beds to 22,000 beds. Holmes attributed this recommendation to the 6,200-person housing waitlist last summer and the growth of the student population since 2010.

“One of the biggest things we pushed for was to not have a static number for the goal amount of beds,” he said. “We want something that’s ambitious and we want something that commits to ensuring that in the current housing crisis.”

UBC responded that this strategy would cost $687 million, making it an “unattainable/ unreasonable target from a land use, demand and financial perspective.” The university approved an increase to a target of 17,300 beds, which would cost $100 million instead.

“We still stand by our submission and think that there should still be more housing on this campus,” Holmes said.

“When we did put the submission together, we were of course very ambitious. Whether that goal can be met, that is something that can be debated but at least we know that it is ambitious and that’s what important to us.”

Moving forward

Following this five-year review, the next review of HAP will come in 2022.

In the meantime, the details for the university-related market rentals are expected to be brought back to BoG in April for further discussion.

Currently, Holmes is “very optimistic” and expects that there will be more discussions between the AMS and UBC to find the right policy direction for university-related housing.

And when asked about the future of consultations, he acknowledged that there are “very few requirements” around them but also noted that the society is looking for ways to put more protections in place.

“The AMS is currently looking into whether we want some sort of consultation agreement with the university,” he said.

“It’s still in the preliminary — it’s something that would take a great deal of time to create, but we’re hopeful that we can create some sort of document that hold the university accountable so that botched consultation like this doesn’t happen again.”