UNA Advocacy on Neighbourhood Development

The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) provides services to and represents the 15,000 residents of UBC’s residential neighbourhoods. In 2021 the UNA’s elected Board of Directors formed a Land Use Advisory Committee to inform the Board’s engagement with UBC in the Campus Vision 2050 planning process. The Committee has hosted a resident town hall; surveyed resident views on development and living in UBC neighbourhoods; and posed detailed questions about neighbourhood expansion to UBC’s office of Campus and Community Planning (CCP). The UNA has drawn on its extensive engagement with residents in calling for UBC to prioritize sustainable, climate-responsible, affordable development at densities consistent with the current land-use plan.

  • Climate Action

    UBC acknowledged in 2019 that we’re facing a climate emergency, and that the University must act decisively to cut carbon emissions and embrace climate resilience. UBC’s Climate Action Plan sets ambitious goals for reducing the University’s carbon footprint, with a focus on energy, construction, waste, and travel to and from campus. The Climate Action Plan highlights UBC’s innovative use of mass-timber construction, development of a campus District Energy System, and support for a Skytrain extension to campus.

    It’s a bold and decisive plan, but it excludes UBC’s residential neighbourhoods, where the majority of new construction will occur over the next thirty years. Rather than extending the University’s climate leadership to neighbourhood development, the Campus Vision planning process has largely neglected the climate emergency and the need to plan for a low-carbon, climate resilient future.

    The UNA’s position

    UBC should pause the Campus Vision planning process until it can complete a comprehensive Climate Action Study and Plan that includes the University Neighbourhoods.

  • Affordability

    Students, faculty, staff, and area workers face a severe shortage of affordable housing near the University.  Rents at UBC are among the highest in the Vancouver metro area, and rental vacancy rates are near zero. The average purchase price for a basic apartment is close to $1.1 million, out of reach for most employees of the University.  This is the highest anywhere in the Lower Mainland, and 32% higher than the average in Vancouver, the next most pricey municipality.

    As of 2018, 49% of condominium units at UBC were not owner-occupied, the highest rate in Canada. This suggests that UBC condos have become a magnet for investment buyers, driving up housing prices for those seeking to purchase homes to live here.  Residents suggest that many units sit vacant, though we can’t know the full extent of the problem until UBC releases relevant data. It’s important to note that Vancouver’s “Empty Homes Tax” does not apply to UBC and the UEL, making area condos more attractive to speculators.

    The UNA’s position

    UBC should prioritize the development of rental housing (at least 50%) in its neighbourhoods, as well as affordable purchase options for UBC affiliates. The University should actively discourage speculative investment, which drives up housing costs for all and feeds the region’s affordability crisis.

  • Ecology & Green Space

    The Point Grey Peninsula, on the traditional, ancestral territory of the Musqueam people, is a rich, but fragile ecosystem, where forests meet the sea, eagles and owls nest precariously in some of the region’s tallest trees, and threatened streams make their way around and through the dense development of the campus and residential neighbourhoods. The Campus Vision 2050 Terms of Reference, with little consultation and no consideration of ecological or environmental impacts, call for a 50% increase in density for remaining neighbourhood development.

    Future development should take account of the carrying capacity of the land and should prioritize a diverse “green infrastructure” within the neighbourhoods, including an abundance of trees on streets and pedestrian corridors, small and large parks, and ecologically nourishing connections with the surrounding forests and waterways.

    The UNA’s position

    UBC should determine the ecological carrying capacity of its land before planning future development. The Campus Vision planning process should include detailed environmental impact studies for a range of development scenarios. The Campus Vision Terms of Reference should be revised to remove premature and arbitrary increases in density.

  • Affordable, Sustainable, Livable Density

    The University has advanced a plan to sharply increase housing density on its remaining land by building up to thirty new towers, many over thirty stories tall, in developments at Stadium Road, Acadia Park, and on the edge of the Wesbrook neighbourhood. Concrete and steel towers involve considerably more “embodied carbon” than other housing forms, and directly contradict the University’s Climate Action goals. The proposed tower heights would preclude the use of mass-timber construction, which tops out at around eighteen stories.

    Many cities around the world have managed to achieve high densities in compact horizontal developments, with buildings averaging six to eight stories. Stacked townhouses, rowhouses, and carefully designed and sited apartment buildings can be dense, but also compatible with other goals, including frequent interaction of neighbours, “eyes on the street,” community-mindedness, the safety of children, and deterring property crime. Creatively landscaped roofs, courtyards, and public green spaces can contribute to community-building, water management, sustainable landscaping, and the green aesthetic valued by residents.

    The UNA’s position

    The University should draw on its faculty’s renowned expertise in urban planning, ecology, landscape architecture, and mass-timber engineering to design compact, green, human-scaled communities. These wood-based neighbourhoods should comprise a mix of low- and mid-rise apartment buildings, stacked townhomes, and mass-timber high-rises no higher than twenty stories.

  • Community Engagement Survey

    The UNA’s Community Engagement Survey drew a remarkable 876 responses, with residents expressing their appreciation of existing neighbourhoods and trepidation about the intensity and character of future development. Respondents emphasized the following priorities, for both existing and future neighbourhoods: trees, green space, and community-oriented space; low-rise construction and density without towers; the need for more retail, services, childcare, and schools, proportionate to the growing population; the need for more affordable housing with priority for those who work and study at UBC; emphasis on rental housing over market leasehold developments; and the importance of sustainability and sensitivity to local ecologies in current and future development.

How can you get involved?

Let the UBC Board of Governors know what you think of UBC’s land-use planning proposals.

Let your MLA, David Eby, know what you think of UBC’s land-use planning proposals.

Let UBC know what you think of their land-use planning proposals.

Share your ideas on neighbourhood development with the UNA, to assist our advocacy on your behalf by filling out the form below.


Questions for UBC

The UNA Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) has compiled a list of questions to ask UBC regarding Campus Vision 2050.  You can expand each topic for the list of questions from the LUAC and UBC’s responses.

  • Revenue

    What percentage of the Endowment fund has come from revenue from land development to date?
    UBC’s Endowment provides stable and enduring financial support for the university’s research programs and students, and contributes to the university’s mandate to create a learning environment that fosters positive global citizenship. In 2022/23, the Endowment is approximately $3 billion. This includes external donations that are typically restricted to specific purposes (approximately 2/3) and land development revenue used to advance critical university priorities (approximately 1/3). More information is available in UBC’s annual budget.

    What percentage of UBC’s operating budget and capital budget comes from the Endowment?
    UBC’s 2022/23 operating budget is approximately $2.5 billion. In 2022/23, the funds available from income on land development are $63.3 million, or approximately 2% of UBC’s operating budget. This income is generated from the return on land development revenue invested in student housing financing, faculty affordability financing, and through the UBC Endowment. More information is available in UBC’s annual budget.

    What are your expectations for contribution to the Endowment from development revenue? Is there a scenario where development revenues do not contribute to the Endowment, but instead prioritize other needs?
    As a public institution, UBC funds critical university priorities through land development revenue: supporting academic excellence through the Endowment; providing housing for students, faculty and staff; and building campus amenities and infrastructure like the Aquatic Centre and Wesbrook Community Centre. Campus Vision 2050 will explore how to advance these critical needs and also realize UBC’s commitment to explore a financial contribution to the regional share of the cost of extending SkyTrain to campus. The UBC Board of Governors makes decisions about how to allocate land development revenue.

    Does UBC still plan to fund a new stadium out of development revenues?  If so, how much will it cost?
    The Stadium Neighbourhood Plan will be finalized through Campus Vision 2050. If the Plan is approved with a new Thunderbird Stadium, it will likely be funded from land development revenues as a cost of developing the area, as is the case with other development on campus, along with potential donor or government funding. Stadium costs will be determined as part of a future planning and design process.

    What financial contribution would be required by UBC for the SkyTrain extension? Also, what are the estimated costs of the terminus at UBC?
    UBC is exploring ways to make a meaningful financial contribution to the regional share of the Millennium Line UBC Extension without diverting funding from its academic mission. The University is working with TransLink to advance project planning and design, which will provide information on costs. It is too early to say what financial contribution UBC may provide, but it may take many forms: providing land for stations; charges collected from developers; and/or a financial contribution from new revenues enabled by rapid transit such as additional housing and development that would not be possible without enhanced transportation.

  • Affordability

    The Terms of Reference refer to “affordable housing.”  How is affordability defined?
    As part of Campus Vision 2050, UBC is also updating its Housing Action Plan, the long-term strategy for housing affordability and choice on campus. The Housing Action Plan currently defines affordability as: for faculty and staff, housing they can afford to rent, lease, or purchase without having to spend more than 30% of pre-tax household income on housing costs (including rent or mortgage, strata fees and property taxes); and for students, housing that is self-supporting on a cost-recovery basis, and is at or below market rental rates. The Housing Action Plan update that will review this definition.

    How does affordable housing for the UBC community rank in priority compared to revenue generation?
    As a public institution, UBC funds critical university priorities, such as affordable housing, through land development revenue. For example, since 2011, UBC has used land development proceeds to internally finance more than 3,000 student housing beds that could not have been built otherwise. Campus Vision 2050 will explore how to advance affordable housing along with other critical university needs, including: supporting academic excellence through the Endowment; enhancing campus amenities and infrastructure; and realizing UBC’s commitment to explore a financial contribution to SkyTrain to campus.

    Does UBC plan to offer affordable housing options for every faculty, staff and student who wants it?  (i.e. no wait list)
    UBC’s Housing Action Plan is a long-term strategy to increase faculty, staff and student housing affordability and choice on campus. UBC relies on land development revenue and available land to deliver community housing. As part of Campus Vision 2050, UBC is also updating its Housing Action Plan. That process will explore capacity for UBC community housing on campus.

    What is the past and anticipated future demand for faculty/staff housing, including larger units sized and priced for families?
    As part of Campus Vision 2050, UBC is also updating its Housing Action Plan, the University’s long-term strategy for housing affordability and choice on campus. The Housing Action Plan update will assess future demand for faculty, staff and student housing on campus, including approaches to location, amount, type, tenure and cost of housing.

    Recognizing the need to address housing affordability at UBC, the last iteration of the Stadium Neighbourhood Plan proposed to allocate 67% to UBC community housing. Does UBC plan for this to be a minimum threshold for future developments?

    As part of Campus Vision 2050, UBC is also updating its Housing Action Plan, the University’s long-term strategy for housing affordability and choice on campus. The Housing Action Plan update will take a campus-wide approach to establishing targets for UBC community housing, including approaches to location, amount, type, tenure and cost of housing.

    2021 census data indicate that 15% of housing units at UBC are “not occupied by usual residents.”  The comparable figure for the city of Vancouver is 7%.  How can/should UBC planners address the relatively high rate of unoccupied units?
    Census data is valuable and also poses challenges for UBC’s campus. For example, the category “not occupied by usual residents” includes 1) dwellings unoccupied on census day (May 11, 2021) and 2) dwellings occupied with someone who has a primary residence elsewhere in Canada or abroad. The first group includes vacant rental units, of which UBC had many during the height of the COVID pandemic, and newly built campus buildings not yet occupied. The second group includes students who have their usual residence with their parents off campus. As a result, UBC is likely to have a higher percentage of units “not occupied by usual residents” than other jurisdictions. Through the Housing Action Plan update, UBC is exploring other potential data sources to assess campus occupancy, such as provincial Speculation and Vacancy Tax data for UBC neighbourhoods.

    According to data from Canadian Housing Statistics Program and SFU’s Andy Yan in 2019, 49% of condominium units at UBC are non-owner-occupied – i.e. investment properties – the highest fraction in Canada.  How will UBC address this issue in future land development?

    Like Census data, Canadian Housing Statistics Program data is valuable and poses challenges for UBC’s campus. Andy Yan’s analysis relied on 2018 data and showed that 49% of condominium units in Metro Vancouver’s Electoral Area A are non-owner-occupied. Non-owner-occupied condominium units could include many situations on UBC’s campus: a student’s family who has purchased a home while studying at UBC, newly built units not yet occupied, and units owned and rented to UBC’s community. UBC monitors rental market and other data sources to assess campus housing occupancy. Census housing data released later in 2022 will provide additional information.

  • Sustainability

    UBC declared a climate emergency and the Board passed a Climate Action Plan, but in the FAQs for the CAP, you note that it does not apply to residential neighbourhoods. The FAQ notes that the relevant plans for neighbourhoods are the CEEP (from 2013, needing an update), REAP (updated in 2020), and “UBC has also initiated a Neighbourhood Low Carbon Energy Strategy (NLCES) to identify pathways to accelerate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions and increase resiliency in future neighbourhood developments.”  Could you tell us more about the NLCES?  Where in that process are you/we?  Is there a public consultation component?  How, if at all, can NLCES tie into Campus Vision 2050 discussions?
    UBC is committed to significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the recently approved Climate Action Plan 2030 for the academic campus, which commits to an 85% reduction in operational emissions. UBC is also in the early planning phase for a Neighbourhood Climate Action Plan that will update the existing 2013 Community Energy and Emission Plan. It will include actions to address a broad range of neighbourhood activities, including energy, new and existing buildings, transportation, and waste.

    As an input for Neighbourhood Climate Action Plan work, UBC is developing a Neighbourhood Low Carbon Energy Strategy (NLCES). The NLCES is focused on future developments and neighbourhoods. It will address how UBC can achieve resilient and low carbon developments by defining 1) a low carbon roadmap with targets and pathways for new developments; and 2) the optimal low carbon energy source, considering cost-competitiveness and environmental objectives.

    The NLCES is shaped by UBC’s existing land use rules and legal agreements, including for neighbourhood district energy. It also includes detailed scenario analysis comparing different technical solutions including approaches to BC Energy Step Code adoption. As a largely technical exercise it does not include any public engagement. The process started in mid-2021 and is expected to conclude in fall 2022.

    NLCES results will inform the upcoming Neighbourhood Climate Action Plan process, which will include engagement with a wide range of stakeholders including the UNA and broader public. The NLCES also links in with Campus Vision 2050 through the Climate Action theme.

    Has UBC done any planning or modelling or is thinking of incorporating consideration of the potential impacts climate change will have on buildings and infrastructure on campus and what impact/cost this will have on the university’s bottom line in the Campus Vision process?

    UBC has developed Climate Ready Building Requirements based on regional climate modelling scenarios to address the increasing severity and duration of climate events. This includes measures to address thermal comfort during heat waves, rainwater management facilities and new landscaping design guidelines that identify plantings that withstands greater extremes associated with intense rain and drought events.

    UBC’s Climate Action Plan 2030 also identifies the need to develop a broader climate adaptation, resiliency and biodiversity strategy which will be initiated this year and will be integrated closely with the development of Campus Vision 2050.

    How will UBC promote walking, bicycling, and other forms of sustainable transit (apart from electric cars) on campus in the short and long-term?  What considerations will be given to those with mobility challenges?
    UBC continues to implement our 2014 Transportation Plan for the Vancouver campus, which articulates a range of targets, policies and actions aimed at improving the experience of people of all abilities travelling to, from and around campus while encouraging the use of sustainable modes (primarily walking, cycling and transit). Recent and upcoming initiatives include: completion of the new UBC Bus Exchange in 2019; continuation of the campus-wide bike share program operated by HOPR since 2019; new secure bike parking and end-of-trip facilities; ongoing public realm improvements across campus; a growing network of dedicated cycling facilities and wayfinding; other sustainable transportation programs and partnerships (e.g. vanpool program, strategic partnerships with carshare and ride-hailing providers, new ridematching and trip-planning tools, etc.). UBC will continue to integrate universal design principles at all stages of planning and development processes, ensure barrier-free accessible parking, and deliver programs (like the Accessibility Shuttle) to ensure people can participate equally in campus life regardless of their physical, sensory or cognitive abilities.

    UBC’s Climate Action Plan 2030 added a new commuting-related GHG emission reduction target (45% below 2010 levels by 2030) and a suite of immediate and near-term actions. These include: strengthening remote learning and working policies and supports; enhancing our sustainable transportation program offerings; eliminating longer-term parking permits that incentivize driving; introducing a faculty/staff transit pass discount program; improving the cycling experience to and from campus; and working towards an integrated e-bike share program with the City of Vancouver. The anticipated Neighbourhood Climate Action Plan will identify related actions specific to neighbourhoods.

    The Millennium Line UBC Extension is critical to achieving our sustainable mode share, single-occupancy vehicle reduction, and commuting-related emission targets.

    Campus Vision 2050 will reinforce the need to strengthen connectivity within the campus and to the broader region, prioritizing active and sustainable modes and planning for the arrival of SkyTrain to campus. It is anticipated that an updated UBC Vancouver Transportation Plan will follow Campus Vision 2050.

    How is UBC planning to protect, provide and conserve the small green spaces and natural areas that are critical to the wellbeing and livability of campus and ensure they contribute to a connected ecological network across campus?

    Enhancing ecology and biodiversity are critical to campus sustainability, climate resilience, ecological health and human wellbeing. Campus Vision 2050 will explore future land use and development in ways that minimize impact on existing natural areas (e.g., through more landefficient, compact development oriented around a network of green and open spaces), applying green infrastructure approaches to mimic natural systems and address downstream impacts (e.g., green streets, integrated rainwater management) and enhance ecological connectivity both within the campus as well as to the surrounding peninsula.

  • Process

    How will conflicting values/interests be handled? What is the process to do so?

    The Campus Vision engagement is designed to be transparent, inclusive, equitable, and flexible to understand and respond to the multiple interests in UBC’s academic and neighbourhood lands that need to be considered. These interests include Musqueam, campus Indigenous communities, students, faculty, residents, staff, alumni and visitors.

    A set of guiding Principles and Strategies will be developed that reflect these interests and values. Along with quantitative and qualitative criteria they will then guide the development and testing of options for the Visioning process and to assess trade-offs and choices for how the university uses its lands to best respond to the complexity of interests, needs and values.

    Examples of criteria include:

    • Urban Structure and Ecology (e.g., land use distribution and integration, transportation and mobility network capacity, amenities and services distribution, ecological connectivity, climate resiliency)
    • Character and Urban Design (e.g., Musqueam and campus indigenous community values, sense of place and campus fit, human-scale urban design, cultural diversity & community experience, green and open space diversity and connectivity)
    • Financial Support to Advance University Priorities (e.g., amount, type and tenure of affordable housing for the UBC community; support for academic excellence; community amenities & infrastructure; and bringing SkyTrain to UBC)

    There will be interests and values that align, and there may be some that are in conflict. While full consensus may not be achievable on outcomes, the intent is to make the trade-offs and choices clear to the community through transparent information and participatory engagement in the process, and to the UBC Board of Governors when making decisions.

    How are the inputs from all sources documented and analyzed? Is there a central place to document the inputs and how are the inputs analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively?

    Campus Vision 2050 involves input from the community through:

    • Broad community engagement, including open houses, community meetings and online engagement through tools such as surveys.
    • Targeted engagement (e.g., with Musqueam, UNA Board, Community Advisory Committee and others).

    Inputs received through these channels will be documented and shared as follows:

    • Engagement summary reports, including analysis and summaries of all engagement feedback as well as verbatim comments, will be completed after each engagement period and shared with the Board of Governors and the community via the Campus Vision 2050 website.
    • Meeting minutes of the Community Advisory Committee will be posted on the Campus Vision 2050 website.
    • Submissions to Board of Governors meetings (including information, recommendations, etc. along with engagement feedback and full engagement summary report) will be posted publicly on the UBC Board of Governors website (approx. one week in advance of Board meetings), and linked to from the Campus Vision 2050 website.

    Campus Vision 2050 also involves technical analysis and studies (i.e., land use capacity, growth assumptions, existing conditions and analysis of proposed options against the principles, strategies and criteria). Results of technical studies and analysis will inform the development and testing of options and be available

More Advocacy

The UNA represents and provides services to the more than 15,000 residents of UBC’s five neighbourhoods. In keeping with its formal role in advising the Board of Governors (BoG) during Campus Vision 2050, the UNA has surveyed its residents on neighbourhood development and prepared this letter in response to the draft Terms of Reference of Campus Vision 2050. This letter represents the official position of the UNA, as approved by the elected Board of Directors at their meeting on May 31, 2022.

Read the letter here.

The UNA survey was completed by 876 residents. Over 500 residents described how green space and nature are important on the UBC campus. They emphasized that recreation activity and places to gather socially are dependent on the green spaces.

The possibility of too much density in the size and height of buildings and the resulting increase in resident population was an overwhelming concern for residents. Respondents described how unchecked development would adversely affect life and nature on campus through the loss of trees, loss of parks for social and recreational gathering and destruction of animal, plant and bird habitats. There was concern that building and population density would foster social isolation and that construction for the needed additional services and amenities would add to the loss of open outdoor space. Residents were mindful of the need for affordable housing and expressed concern that increased market housing may not respond to that need. There was concern about the impact that construction would have on climate and the environment.

The UNA survey results illustrated that UBC residents have interest in many aspects of life at UBC. Their concerns and suggestions were for the larger UBC community as well as for their residential community.

Learn more about the results of the UNA Community Engagement Survey below.

Survey Results

March 3, 2022 | 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. | Online

All residents living in the UNA were invited to attend a virtual town hall to participate in a UNA-moderated discussion about UBC’s Campus Vision 2050 (a public planning process that will shape land use in the Vancouver campus).

The UNA is actively working with UBC to ensure that the needs of the community are represented in UBC’s Campus Vision 2050 plan. The Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) was established to help support the UNA Board with land use and development on the UBC Vancouver campus, and help facilitate discussions on land use planning and development with residents.

The virtual town hall was hosted by the UNA and led by LUAC Chair/UNA Board member, Murray McCutcheon.

View chat transcript (PDF)
View presentation slides (PDF)

More information about Campus Vision 2050 can be found here: campusvision2050.ubc.ca.