UBC prof calls housing crisis 'a cultural problem' at Campus Vision 2050 talk

On Wednesday, Dr. Paul Kershaw, an associate professor at the UBC School of Population and Public Health and founder of non-profit Generation Squeeze, provided a sobering assessment of the housing affordability crisis currently affecting Vancouver.

His presentation was part of the Planning a Campus for Everyone: Confronting the Affordability Crisis series, which was organized by Campus and Community Planning for Campus Vision 2050. For the event, students, faculty and UBC residents gathered in Jack Poole Hall at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, and online via livestream.

In his presentation, Kershaw critiqued how the unaffordability crisis is framed in current discourse about housing.

According to Kershaw, housing prices in Canada increased by as much as 318 per cent since 2000, with average annual rent in Vancouver rising by up to ten thousand dollars in the last forty years. These trends greatly enrich existing home and real estate owners, including UBC, he said.

“In 18 years, I’ve accumulated half a million dollars in my pension plan … Last year, BC Assessment told me my property [value] went up by half a million dollars [in one year].”

Yet while homeowners enjoy their returns, students looking for accommodation are caught in the crossfire. Kershaw stressed that tuition is no longer the main cost barrier for prospective full-time students, but rather housing.

Unfortunately, resistance to skyrocketing costs is muted at best, as many still see housing as a wealth-growing investment tied to the market.

“I need to confess that the problem we are facing is not a policy problem; the problem we are facing is a cultural problem.”

Kershaw made it clear however that instead of hoping for a ‘silver bullet’ for the current crisis, a ‘silver buckshot’ should instead be considered, as seemingly minor policy tools can have great effect over time when used simultaneously.

For UBC, Kershaw acknowledged that the university did not create this "addiction" to rising home prices, but also commented that it has the capacity to do more.

“We … have an opportunity to use our collective thought leadership to articulate a vision for our campus that might share for other people the opportunities to disrupt the broader cultural addiction,” he said, adding that an important step ahead of Campus Vision 2050 is for UBC to acknowledge the problem from the start.

In a statement sent to The Ubyssey after the event, Kershaw emphasized students should not feel guilty about their worries with regards to balancing academics and finances. He also said students can make their concerns heard if they work collectively.

“I want [students] to know, they’re not doing anything wrong. They are actually being heroic in a system that is badly serving them.”