UBC continues to fine-tune staff, faculty housing programs following differences in demand

As UBC continues to fine-tune its faculty and staff housing support programs, one is receiving significant demand while the other lags behind its targets.

Following the conclusion of a five-year review of the Housing Action Plan (HAP) earlier this year, UBC brought the topic to the Board of Governors again in September for updates about the Prescribed Interest Rate Loan (PIRL) program and the rent-geared-to-income (RGI) program, which were launched in spring 2017 and spring 2018 respectively.

Serving UBC’s strategy to recruit and retain faculty talents, the PIRL program offers a one-time loan to tenured and tenured-track faculty members to buy a home on or off campus. While applicants have to pay the prescribed interest rate — which was increased from 1 per cent to 2 per cent by the Canadian Revenue Agency in April — they don’t have to pay the principal amount until either the end of the loan’s 15-year term or the resale of the unit.

The Board submission reports that the PIRL program “has proven very popular” so far.

“The faculty member now has to pay 2% interest rate on PIRL loans instead of 1%, but he/she is still not paying any principal,” said UBC Manager of Housing Support Programs Siobhan Murphy in a written response to The Ubyssey.

“Thus, the PIRL is still a very attractive loan, although the marginal after tax cost for the faculty member has gone up.”

UBC approved 42 applications out of the 61 it received between July 2017 and the Board submission’s report date on August 24, 2018.

“It is a merit-based program with a limited amount of funds,” said Murphy. She noted that PIRL’s funding comes from the Faculty Housing Assistance Financing Endowment, which receives a $10 million annual allocation. “As such, some applicants have not been successful.”

While recruitment and retention are usually grouped together as a strategy, the program has mainly invested in recruiting new faculty.

At the September 13 Board meeting, UBC Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri put the current breakdown as three-fourth recruitment and one-fourth retention. Similarly, UBC created an ancillary program to PIRL in February with additional funding to help the university recruit 14 candidates for prestigious academic positions like Excellence Chairs. Murphy confirmed that six positions have been filled since then.

Szeri, however, also acknowledged at the meeting that there should be more flexibility and a need-based analysis for this process due to the high number of retention applications.

“The University intends on conducting a needs analysis in 2019 for the purpose of guiding decision making around increased resources,” said Murphy.

This discussion could also take place in the subcommittee on HAP, whose re-establishment was approved in the same meeting.

While little is yet known about the subcommittee, Dr. Nassif Ghoussoub — a UBC Vancouver faculty representative on the Board and chair of the Community Planning Task Group that developed HAP — hopes that its members would keep the university’s academic mission in at the forefront of the subcommittee’s considerations.

“You have to balance between densification and what you’re getting for the academic mission,” said Ghoussoub, reflecting on the future development of the Stadium Road Neighbourhood.

“Lower than hoped”

On the other hand, the RGI pilot program has seen 151 applicants since April 2018, but only 11 have secured housing and 14 are waiting for their rental units.

The RGI offers 110 rental units capped at 30 per cent of the household income of staff and faculty who make under $68,000 annually. To be rolled out over two years, each year aims to fill 50 spaces for staff and 5 for faculty.

There have been no applications from faculty so far.

“While it is premature to evaluate whether or not we will reach our target … we are trending lower than hoped,” said Murphy.

She acknowledged that the process’ financial component has taken “longer than expected,” and that UBC had not anticipated such a high disqualification and dropout rate. As of the submission’s report date on August 24, only 28 applicants were eligible following the asset verification process; 32 applicants dropped out due to either a change in circumstance or declined a unit after already being fully approved.

Moving forward, the university is ramping up outreach and communication efforts for this program to improve the demand.

“Because of the highly decentralized nature of UBC we also believe that our communications might not be finding the right audience,” said Murphy.

“ … We will be involved in a number of outreach activities this fall including information sessions with targeted UBC staff employee groups. We will also be reaching out to deans and faculty to try and understand why there has been no uptake with this program.”

There will be a full review of the RGI at the end of its pilot program in early 2019. A comprehensive annual report of the HAP will also be presented to the Board in December.