Returning students face housing hurdles

Published in 24 Hours Vancouver | August 19, 2013 | Circulation: 251,700

As thousands of university and college students gear up for fall classes, the hunt is on for scarce housing in the Lower Mainland.

With September approaching, many are expressing frustration with the decreasing number of apartments, and some say the city isn’t doing enough to help.

“It’s really hard to find a nice and reasonably priced apartment,” said Elliot Pang, who studies business at a downtown Vancouver college. “It still confuses me.

“I have been looking around two weeks. I’ve searched around 10 different rooms. The rent is 50% more than, or even double, other areas … Vancouver is really an expensive city to live in.”

On Monday, the City of Vancouver emailed a list of existing housing resources for post-secondary students, including its online database of health and safety inspections, and small loans program for low-income renters.

City Coun. Kerry Jang, who teaches psychiatry at the University of B.C., told 24 hours he frequently hears students complain about the lack of housing; many have to take transit from “Burnaby and beyond.”

“As a professor, one of the issues students have told me over the years is it’s hard to find a decent place,” he said. “They don’t know what’s good or bad. The rental database gives a ‘naughty-and-nice’ list of landlords, so they know where to start looking.”

But one student expressed doubt about the database’s usefulness.

“It’s really tough out there,” said Tristan Markle, a PhD biology student at Simon Fraser University “Almost every year, you’ve gotta move, right? Moving takes a huge amount of time, energy and money.”

Markle organizes with the Vancouver Renter’s Union, which advocates tenant rights.

“I know a lot of horror stories,” he said. “I have been ‘renovicted’ … It’s very, very common.”

Markle said the city’s tenant resources will do little to alleviate unaffordable housing costs, and suggested people consult student unions or Internet bedbug forums before turning to the city.

“I don’t think any of these things have any relevance towards students at all,” he said, laughing. “It’s a real stretch that students are going to find this interesting or useful.

“It’s PR, and not substantive. I hope the average person would look at it and say, ‘This doesn’t fit with my experience of renting in the city.’ The proof’s in the pudding, it’s just not getting more affordable here.”

But regulating rent levels, as Markle wishes, is not on the table.

“We’re looking to have more stock available closer to the universities,” Jang said. “When more stock is available, the prices come down. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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