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University student forced to live in Kamloops nuisance hotel due to housing crunch

Image Credit: Thompson Rivers University

A Thompson Rivers University student says it has been “mentally and physically exhausting” trying to find a place to live amid the Kamloops housing crunch.

Wazeer Ali from Bangladesh arrived in the city in mid-September to find himself in desperate need of a rental.

The Bachelor of Business Administration student said TRU sent out a warning about the housing shortage shortly before his arrival but at the time he was in self-isolation in Toronto following COVID-19 travel restrictions. Not being able to search for accommodation in person and not knowing anyone in the city who could help with viewings added another layer to the challenge, he said.

Last year, he did school online in Bangladesh but now he’s sharing a hotel room with another student.

“When I first got here, I stayed at a motel but the motel’s rates were absurdly high so when I looked around I saw all the motels near the university were getting booked up,” he said.

He has contacted about 40 property owners who have units for rent. Some never replied, which he presumed was due to the high volume of requests they were getting.

“As an international student, we already pay so much for our tuition and we’re trying to make our life a little more comfortable… but all in all it’s been mentally and physically exhausting,” he said.

On Oct. 1, he moved to the Star Lodge after spending the previous two weeks in another hotel. He’s currently renting the room for $1,000 a month, split between himself and a roommate but it’s not ideal. The hotel is considered a nuisance property by the City of Kamloops.

READ MORE: Six properties removed from Kamloops' 'nuisance properties' list

He had no prior knowledge that it was listed as a nuisance property but hasn’t had any problems living there in the last few days.

“It’s like you take what you can get with the situation right now,” Ali said.

There are two choices for international students like himself, he said. Either they have to spend their time studying and maintaining their grades or taking public transportation and trying to find an appropriate place to stay.

He plans to ride out this semester in the hotel and hopes next semester will offer better opportunities.

TRU is offering a chance to shift learning back online, something he’s considering.

“What’s the point in coming all this way if we can’t find a roof over our heads?”

Ali said he’s in need of a two-bedroom, one-bathroom suite that would allow himself and a roommate to have their own privacy. He and his roommate can pay between roughly $1,000 to $1,500 for accommodation.

TRU is partnering with hotels and offering housing placements, but Ali said he isn’t one of the students who has been offered that at this time.

TRU also requested a permit to build housing units in one of its parking lots, but the city rejected the notion, stating it wouldn’t meet B.C.’s building code requirements. The buildings were designed in accordance with Alberta building codes and would have been similar to temporary work camps.

READ MORE: Urgent need for student housing not enough to skirt building codes in Kamloops

TRU vice president Matt Milovick said the university is considering building more residences on campus but that solution has two problems.

One is that it takes at least 18 months to build most developments. The second is that if the market reverses, they'll have too much space as students return to regular housing, he said.

As for nuisance hotels like the Star Lodge, he said, "there are a number of those properties deemed as nuisance properties and we try to avoid them, but students don't avoid them."

On-campus there are 1,366 beds for students, while the university has 712 fewer students this semester compared to the fall of 2019. However, that has not left enough space for students on campus due to the ongoing housing crunch in Kamloops.

Enrolment at the university is also down compared to previous pre-pandemic years with 1,000 fewer students compared to 2019, according to TRU documents.

In 2021, there are 8,637 students enrolled at TRU including 3,315 international students. In 2019, there were 9,349 students, 3,681 of which were international students. There are also 238 international students who were learning virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

There are currently 200 students being supported in local hotels and motels through to the end of the year at a cost of $500 per month. Normally, there is available affordable housing in Kamloops at this time, but there is little to none today, according to TRU.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data shows that Kamloops had the smallest change in its vacancy rate amongst the Thompson-Okanagan’s five largest cities. It fell from 2.1% in 2019 to 2% last year. Vacancy rates for 2021 are not yet available.

READ MORE: Renting a home became tougher in Kamloops and the Okanagan in 2020

Kamloops planning and development supervisor Eric Beach said the issue of low vacancy rates is greater than Kamloops, it’s a B.C.-wide and global challenge.

“A lot of these things are market-driven,” Beach said. “A lot of the people moving are just trying to get out of the Lower Mainland… it’s a lot more affordable in Kamloops.”

In the last few years, the city has legalized secondary suites in single-family dwellings and there have been multiple projects that have been rental buildings specifically, much more than in the previous 20 years, he said.

The city is also developing a new zoning bylaw and is increasing densities in zones across the city.

In Kelowna, UBC Okanagan students are also contending with a housing shortage, but its student union president doesn’t think it’s been quite as bad as Kamloops.

“It’s been more difficult as the years have progressed,” said Tashia Kootenayoo, a fifth-year student at UBCO.

Landlords often choose couples and working people over students because they see them as less financially stable but that’s not necessarily true, she said.

UBCO recently announced more than 220 beds each with its new Skeena and Nechako residences on campus but Kootenayoo said those beds were needed roughly five years ago.

“We can’t even promise housing to our first-year students and that just goes to show that it’s a little late,” she said.

The pandemic is also playing a role with the housing crunch.

“For some students, there’s travel restrictions. I know quite a few students flew to four different countries getting here, just to find out that their classes were online so there are multiple pieces here,” Kootenayoo said.

Rent has also significantly increased in the last few years. She said two years ago she got a two-bedroom basement suite for $1,650 and now is renting a two-bedroom suite for $1,950.

Both the student union and the university have been pushing B.C. Transit for better transportation in other areas like Lake Country and West Kelowna so students have the option to live in cheaper areas, she said.

UBCO has also teamed up with the off-campus housing tool The online tool provides listings of off-campus rentals, shared houses, apartments and sublets, and can connect students looking for roommates, according to a UBCO press release. Landlords wishing to list rental properties free of charge can also use the website.

“Off-campus housing has been a particular challenge for students this fall,” said Dale Mullings, associate vice-president of students, in the press release. “UBCO is committed to helping all students requiring assistance finding off-campus housing, connecting to potential roommates or needing help to understand the residential tenancy agreement in B.C.”

UBCO also created an off-campus housing ambassador to help students with their house search. The ambassador dealt with more than 400 inquiries from students during the summer and hosted several online events to help students find roommates and navigate Kelowna’s rental housing market.

UBCO has 10 different residence buildings, providing on-campus accommodation to more than 2,000 students.

The university has 11,999 students enrolled this year which is slightly higher than last year, said Patty Wellborn, communications officer with UBCO, via email.

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