Student housing crisis may deepen after new rental regulations

Students' struggle could worsen with fewer accommodations in near future, expert says

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By JACOB ARON LEUNG

This story was originally published on Nov. 22, 2023. 

Despite upcoming provincial regulations meant to help those looking for housing, many students still must make difficult trade-offs when finding a place to live.

In October, the provincial government introduced the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act which limits hosts to more stringent rules in hopes of offering more housing availability.

“We are in a housing crisis and we need to make sure that homes are being used to house people, not as an investment opportunity,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon to the Voice in an emailed statement.

The act will be fully implemented in 2024. For students in school now, the situation is still dire.

Cheap housing requires sacrifices

Those who manage to find rentals, like first-year Columbia College student Leo Malamug, need to weigh the pros and cons of available housing.

Malamug lives in a house with 12 other renters near King Edward and Fraser. He shares a room with two other students.

Despite sharing a home with many people, Malamug said the monthly $520 rent and proximity to Columbia College are advantages.

“I feel like it is worth all those sacrifices,” he said.

First-year SFU psychology student Kenji Singh said many international students feel pressured to take whatever is available in Vancouver’s “fast” market. He said many, including himself, have faced unpleasant experiences due to rushed decisions.

“It’s so hard to just find a decent place,” Singh said. “A lot of people would end up just sacrificing the flexibility just to try to find a place.”

Singh lives in residence at SFU while studying psychology at Fraser International College. Though Singh said his situation now is convenient, he used to rent a room under a landlord who “broke the law” by intruding on his personal space.

He said she also threatened to evict him without reason.

Singh moved out before eviction because SFU offered him on-campus residency.

Singh said he didn’t know where he would have lived if SFU had not accepted him into residency.

“I don’t think I would have had many choices,” Singh said.

The uncertain future of short-term rentals

One housing expert has concerns about the short-term rental act and whether it will fit the unpredictable lifestyles of students.

Andrey Pavlov, a professor of finance who specializes in real estate at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, said the act’s inflexibility hinders students’ options.

“One thing about young people in general is that they’re still finding that longer-term career,” said Pavlov. “They need to be flexible, they need to be able to move to a summer job or switch schools or even switch campuses in the same school.”

Pavlov referenced the impacts of B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax on the housing market, predicting that house prices will fall, but so will unit sales and desirability.

Students at Langara, which lacks campus housing, are forced to dive into the rental market.

Chin Song, who will be starting Langara’s post-degree diploma in business administration in January, has searched for accommodations in Vancouver since September.

Song’s frugal mentality and income from her career as an educator in China means affordability is not her primary concern. She said she is willing to pay up to $1,600 a month for a rental.

Song said she needs the ability to rent something short-term, she told the Voice over Zoom from her home in China. “But it seems that most landlords would love to rent for the long-term [only].”

Song said she is looking at Airbnb and short-term leases, the availability of which will be reduced by the upcoming regulations.

Chart showing average rent in B.C. cities using data from Oct. 2023. Vancouver tops the chart at nearly $3,000

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