Following up on our recent post, ‘UBC Staff And Faculty Housing Demand Study’ [VREAA 19 Sep 2011], here below is a series of first- and second-hand personal anecdotes excerpted from UBC faculty and staff comments posted at ubc.ca 27 Sep – 3 Oct 2011 as part of a discussion UBC is encouraging in order to develop a ‘Housing Action Plan’. [Many thanks to David for forwarding us the link].
It is perhaps remarkable that not one of the discussants appears to address the giant over-arching truth: that a speculative mania in housing is the cause of the problem. On the contrary, many of the posters explicitly state the belief that local housing prices can do no other than power forever upwards.
Once the housing bubble is recognized for what it is, it follows that only with an implosion of that bubble will any housing challenges be meaningfully addressable. Housing in Vancouver is currently two to three times overvalued, as determined by fundamental measures such as incomes, rents, and GDP. The mania will end, as all manias do, with substantial price drops. This will likely occur not as a result of policy changes, but as a result of market dynamics. Indeed, such an implosion may have already begun.
Under the shadow of this mania, the vast majority of ‘affordable housing’ plans in Vancouver are akin to rearranging the proverbial deck-chairs on the Titanic; to blowing into a hurricane. Any such plans will be incapable of addressing the powerful negative forces of the mania. Getting 10% or 15% assistance purchasing extremely overpriced RE still results in it being very, very overpriced.
The coming Vancouver RE price deflation will go a long way to solving Vancouver’s (and UBC’s) housing challenges. Imagine how different the UBC discussion will be when prices are 50% lower. Or even lower than that. Yes, there will still be a need for sensible policy about campus housing, and perhaps a need for housing assistance plans to attract desirable faculty, but housing would no longer sit centre-stage, where it is now, and where it certainly doesn’t belong.
Granted, a real estate price crash will at the same time result in other significant problems for Vancouverites, many of whom are over-invested in RE. Our local economy will suffer greatly, as it has become sorely over-dependent on activity related to real estate. This is, unfortunately, what happens when a massive speculative mania plays out. It’s baked into the cake. UBC has, of course, been an eager bubble participant, via large for-profit RE development projects. While showing concern about the cost of housing, the university, ironically, also has an economic stake in the bubble being sustained. This is why we haven’t seen (and don’t expect to see) strong statements truly critical of the status quo coming from within UBC itself.
Regardless, the personal stories below are noteworthy, and the detrimental effect that the housing mania is having on academic endeavours is apparent.
As an Assistant Professor that was recently recruited to the University, I feel like I have no hope of supporting a family and purchasing a house in Vancouver. I lose a great deal of sleep over trying to make ends meet in Vancouver and I feel this is holding me back from making research and education advances at UBC. I believe housing is only a symptom of a systemic problem at UBC: very poor support of young academic faculty.
- G.T.T., October 1, 2011 at 9:36 am
Very recently, I lost a dear and outstanding colleague to Oxford. He confided that one of the main reasons for him moving was that Oxford offered him the opportunity to own a home near his work (The university partners with faculty to ensure they can own a place near campus). In Vancouver, he could not see how he would ever afford a place for his family, including a newborn.
I too am about to start a family. I have been incredibly worried about moving from my small apartment to a bigger place. Paging through the real estate ads is depressing. It is clear that my salary and consulting fees are simply not enough. In this sense, it is heart warming to read about colleagues with the same concerns and about UBC leaders trying to alleviate the problem.
- Nando de Freitas, September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm
If I had known about the future housing situation back in 2004 when I was hired, I would have probably reconsidered my decision to come to UBC.
- L. Van Waerbeke, Faculty of Science, [September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am], who also suggests “create a parallel UBC housing market where sells/buys can only happen between UBC employees”.
I am a graduate student at UBC and my stipend is $21,000. I have to live one hour from campus to pay for rent that is $800 per month. After my health insurance and phone bill, I barely have enough money for food. This summer, I calculated that I could spend only $10 per day for food. To top it off, the on-campus housing is more expensive. Shouldn’t campus provide CHEAP housing for students? This makes me want to leave UBC…
- Anonymous, September 30, 2011 at 3:46 pm
I live in East Vancouver and I could drive out to Tsawwassen in less time than it takes for me to creep west in my morning bumper-to-bumper convoy of the damned.
- SR, Library, September 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm
My salary is competitive compared to performing a similar job at a non-profit or charity but Vancouver is just too expensive.
As a staff member with two young children I have been despairing for a while. My paycheque after deductions covers rent and both kids at UBC daycare ($1300 for 3-days/week) I am left with a couple of hundred dollars each month to pay for rising costs of food, clothing, vehicle expenses etc. We’re just able to make it with my wife’s part-time, self-employed income but if she doesn’t work (as happened this summer) we’re running up the line of credit with the bank just to keep food on the table.
As rents have risen and our family has grown we have moved further and further east. We rent a small, run down 2-BR East Van bungalow for a bit less than what a 2-BR apartment would go for on campus. We have privacy, space and a nice vegetable garden in the yard but it means I spend at least two hours on bike or bus each day commuting instead of with my family.
As long as UBC’s definition of affordable housing is slightly below west side of Vancouver market rates, most staff will be shut out.
- I.P., Staff, Faculty of Arts, September 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm
When I moved to UBC, the faculty housing assistance was not sufficient for me to enter the housing market. The assistance options have improved slightly since then, but are only available within the first seven years, and I am no longer eligible. Meanwhile, the housing prices in Vancouver have become prohibitive, having doubled to tripled over this relatively short time. The UBC Village Gate Homes rentals on campus are very nice, and are extremely convenient, even though the rental rates are not really subsidized.
- A.F, Associate Professor, Science, October 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm
We know several faculty whose behaviour changed dramatically once they moved off-campus. Owing to traffic and the loss of efficiency in terms of writing, they started coming in only 2 days a week. Gradually, they started avoiding students and meetings, the opposite of what they were doing for years when they lived on campus. The incentives became too strong. The situation also creates perverse incentives towards devoting more and more time to consulting and non-scholarly activities, or accepting visiting positions elsewhere, as soon as April comes along. Gradually, faculty who stay at UBC will find themselves becoming helicopter professors, dropping in for classes and crucial duties, and rushing off to earn money or do their long commute home. In sum, there are many benefits that are externalities and not integrated into the pure monetary equation.
- Yves Tiberghien & Darrin Lehman, October 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm
In our own case, we would like to move to a larger 3 bedroom unit on campus. But there are none available, for almost three years now.
Rent, currently charged by UBC Properties is around 15-20% lower then market. Why not making it 40% lower, allowing families to live on campus and promote sustainability by reducing commutes for 4 people a day!
- Eugene Barsky, Library, October 1, 2011 at 12:24 am
Many of my colleagues who are since quite some time at UBC could buy into the market to relatively low prices and enjoy (nominal) windfall profits with which they leverage all kind of expenditures. People like me who only recently came to UBC are in a different situation and usually can’t afford buying a house, and yes, looking for locational options is always in our mind.
- Kurt Huebner, September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am
I was disappointed when I tried to obtain rental accommodation on campus, because of the no-pets policy. There was not a single building on campus that would allow me to have my cat in the dwelling. This policy probably prevents many people from being able to live on campus, and I strongly suggest that it be changed. Pets are important in many people’s lives.
- Selina Fast, administrative-support staff, September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am
I now finally have a house that I can afford…in Squamish.
- JKS, Faculty Dept of Medicine, September 30, 2011 at 10:09 am
Arriving to UBC 2 years ago from the US we found the dip in the US market while price increase in Vancouver to be much more difficult that we initially thought.
We were very frustrated from UBC policies that seem to encourage selling on-campus housing to retirees rather than to faculty. It seems that the current administration is thinking more about the short term profit than the longer term effect on UBC. I am hoping that this will change.
We finally bought a nice house in east van. With the size of our mortgage, I will not retire before I’m 85.
- Eldad Haber, September 29, 2011 at 11:50 pm
When I arrived at UBC from Stanford, the whole “University Town” plan was just starting. Given my experience with Stanford (similarly blessed with a large amount of extraordinarily valuable land in a very expensive real estate market), it was painfully obvious the plan was not in the long-term best interests of UBC. I do not fault the folks who pushed the “University Town” through, as UBC was desperately short of money, and they executed very well on a plan to convert UBC’s land wealth into endowment dollars. The failure, though, was a lack of long-term strategic vision, to see that buildable land at UBC was more vital to the University’s future, and faster appreciating, than financial assets in an endowment.
- Alan Hu, September 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm
As many previous contributors noted, the cost of housing in greater Vancouver will very likely continue to rise.
- Marcel Franz, Professor of Physics, September 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm
My frustration has grown since 2004, until I just decided to lose any hope that UBC Trust would care about people working on campus and any hope to ever own a place. There is only so far some one can go with the mounting frustration of seeing high end condos built on campus everywhere out of reach of a family of 4. Even the condos built for faculty/staff were unaffordable. Townhouses built for faculty/staff are now back on the market at more than a million dollars. I look at other options in other cities every year.
- B. Pfeiffer, Faculty of Education, September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm
At my salary, I would not have moved here if I had young kids at home because I would not have been able to provide them the same “home” facilities as I had in Ontario. Since my kids are all old now, moving to a condo made sense and made it possible financially but if I had a younger family, the discussion would have dramatically changed.
There is a psychological factor that makes many professors bitter and angry with UBC. When a professor feels that after 20 years of service to UBC he/she is unable to buy a unit on campus but others who have nothing to do with UBC are; it is very demoralizing. I have been hearing that on a regular basis since joining UBC.
- Dr. T. Aboulnasr, Dean of Applied Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:53 pm
Six years ago I … told the Provost at the time (Lorne Whitehead) that I was worried about UBC retaining many of the outstanding colleagues that had been hired over the past several years, and that I was particularly worried about Vancouver’s expensive housing market and the minimal assistance offered by the University (i.e., little more than covering closing costs).
Owing to an even higher Vancouver real estate market, my worry is still there. Many colleagues that we’ve hired over the past decade are highly marketable and moveable.
- Darrin Lehman, September 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm
During the recruitment process housing or the lack of affordable housing is the number one issue. It is common to every single conversation that I had with all our candidates regardless of rank.
- Vanessa Auld, Assoc Dean of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In my experience, the affordability of housing comes up at some point in almost every faculty negotiation (recruitment and retention). In a couple of instances, housing was arguably the major reason a faculty member chose not to join UBC, or chose to leave.
- Simon Peacock, Dean of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm
We have lost candidates due to the difference in housing costs with many other locations.
- Rachel Kuske, Head, Dept of Mathematics, September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In Vancouver, for a newcomer like me, it is very hard to accumulate enough funds for a reasonable mortgage within a reasonable amount of time not to be out-passed by the price increase. In the UBC area, I heard that two-bedroom units are currently worth about $0.7 million or more. … As a family of four, we found that it is very hard to find a townhouse unit or three-bedroom apartment, rented or owned, unless paying a very high price.
- Y.K., Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm
Housing issues comprised the main reason that we lost an excellent prospective faculty member, Y. M., who we had made an offer to in computational applied math a couple of years ago. He liked the department a lot, but was not able to afford to get a place to live where he and his wife would be happy raising a family. They were priced out of the market. He went to U Minnesota instead. We lost out.
As I had written to the BoG a few years ago, we almost lost another collegue to housing issues (D.C.). Somehow that catastrophe was averted at the last moment by the head’s work. I think you will find many such stories among recent hires (last 10 yrs) who left us due to the real estate woes, or candidates we wanted to attract who took a look at the housing prices and voted with their feet.
- Leah Keshet, Professor, Faculty of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm
First a theorem: Due to a large influx of immigrants who desire to live in Vancouver, the housing price in Vancouver will grow beyond the reach of a new faculty with regular salary. This will soon become an obstacle for UBC to hire new faculty.
- T.T., Professor, Faculty of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm
After 16 years at UBC, I’m still living in 540 square feet.
- K.B., Professor, Faculty of Science, September 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm
2003 arrive UBC. 2004 look for a house. Kid #1 arrives; decide to rent for a bit longer and save $ for better place than we could afford at that time.
2004-2008 cost of acceptable house to purchase increases faster than our ability to pay. Period of frustration at that time.
2008 investigate positions elsewhere. Obtain great offers. Nearly leave. Stay at UBC after competitive retention raise is offered.
2009 combination of slight dip in prices, low interest rates, improved housing assistance program and increased salary mean we start looking again
2010 buy house (nice place near Fraser street). Notably just barely within the “seven years at UBC” time limit on the housing assistance program.
- Daniel Coombs, Associate Professor, Mathematics, September 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm