New housing program approved as a strategy to recruit and retain staff and faculty

At their meeting on June 14, the UBC Board of Governors approved a proposal to implement a rent-geared-to-income program as a strategy to recruit and retain staff and faculty. According to UBC Human Resources, its launch is targeted for Spring 2018.

The pilot program will consist of 100 rental spaces for staff and 10 for incoming faculty members, located within the new faculty and staff rental housing projects that will be completed next spring. The rent will be set at 30 per cent of the participants’ household incomes. 

To be eligible, the household income for staff members must be $64,500 or less and tenancy is capped at ten years. Meanwhile, for new faculty, household income must be under $99,500 and tenancy is capped at two years. Applications from staff members will be selected via lottery and faculty will be selected with approval from the provost office based on merit.

The program will be instituted over the next two years with the potential for expansion. 

“We want to learn to walk before we run,” said Lisa Colby, managing director of Faculty-Staff Housing and Relocation Services. “The idea is to start this off small and to see what the demand is like and really get a chance to exercise the program. If it’s successful and the demand is there, we certainly would hope to expand it.”

The idea for the project came out of extensive consultation for the Housing Action Plan (HAP).

“There were a number of surveys, meetings and workshops. This all happened back in 2011 and 2012 where people were telling us that the affordability and availability of rent in the marketplace was tough,” said Colby.

The HAP contains 19 policies that address housing issues and development on campus, eight of which concern faculty and staff and seven that concern students. It was approved by the board in 2012 and since then, policies such as the restricted home ownership program for faculty and partnership with Student Housing and Hospitality Services have been implemented. This rent-geared-to-income program is the latest addition to the HAP.

Furthermore, this project is just one of the “tools in the toolkit” that aims to improve recruitment and retention. 

“We’re a great university. We want to be even greater, and recruiting and retaining faculty, staff and students is critical,” said Colby. “All of these programs, whether they’re faculty, staff or student related, it’s all about, how can we make the affordability and availability challenges for housing not become a barrier for people staying at UBC?”

Tsur Somerville, professor of real estate finance, questioned the retention aspect of the HAP. He remarked that the rent-geared-to-income plan would only really benefit faculty members who were just starting out their careers, considering the criteria for application. 

Staff members would also stand to gain the most from the plan, he said. “They’re talking ten units for faculty, but a hundred units for staff. There you’re looking at people with dramatically lower incomes, so I think there’s a clear benefit.”

At 30 per cent of their household income, a staff member whose household income is $64,500 would have a monthly rent of $1612.50. A junior staff member with a household income of $99,500 would pay $2,487.50 in rent.

Nonetheless, Somerville agreed that housing is an issue for employers when it comes to recruitment.

“It is a challenge to hire faculty and researchers here because we don’t really pay salaries that allow people to get the kind of housing that they could get in other places,” he said. For middle class families, the concern also becomes the ability to purchase a home rather than to rent.

“We know each of these programs won’t fully solve the local housing challenge for everyone, but with all the tools working together, the HAP can definitely help make a difference,” said Colby in a follow-up email to The Ubyssey. “And we are committed to keep moving forward one step at a time.”