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City denies request from TRU to exempt temporary housing measures from building code

TRU students are currently facing a housing crunch, and the university's proposed solution was to erect temporary work-camp-style housing in a university parking lot
TRU campus

The City of Kamloops has denied a request from Thompson Rivers University to be exempt from BC Building Code standards, which the university sought in order to erect temporary student housing on campus.

TRU students are currently facing a housing crunch, and the university's proposed solution was to erect temporary work-camp-style housing in a university parking lot.

But the City of Kamloops says that plan won't work, as it doesn't hold up against BC Building Code standards, including issues with the fire alarm systems, prohibited use of a shared heating and ventilation system, multiple fire prevention issues and utility issues, including sewer access.

In his response to the university, City of Kamloops Chief Administrative Officer David Trawin said the buildings also do not meet the criteria to be classified as an emergency facility.

"While we do understand the seriousness of TRU's predicament — including the arrival of students for whom TRU has not yet secured housing — the city is of the view that using temporary housing that does not meet the legislated (and widely accepted) health and safety requirements would exacerbate rather than cure TRU's dilemma," he wrote.

That dilemma stems from a number of conditions that are new this year. TRU students often face issues finding housing, but with a full return to campus for the first time since 2019, the problem has been made even worse.

In a statement from Thompson Rivers University, the university says it is disappointed with the city's decision to not allow it to ignore the BC Building Code.

"We believe we put forward a solution that provides a full commitment to the health and safety of students and addressed a critical need due to a sudden and unforeseen shortage of affordable housing in the city," the statement reads.

In the statement, the university cites "sudden an unforeseen" factors as the cause of the shortage and said a surge in student is not to blame, as there are 712 fewer students currently enrolled compared to September 2019, when students were last attending classes on campus.

"The situation experienced today is the result of a number of factors that have strained the city's affordable housing supply, including the influx of out-of-town workers to support pipeline and other construction activity, wildfire evacuees, and the loss of spaces to social housing and future developments," the statement reads.

In recent years, TRU has taken hold of its student housing, purchasing the private development Upper College Heights, located across Summit Drive and now called the East Village, and the McGill student housing buildings, which are on campus but were previously privately owned. Along with the North Tower (formerly known as the TRU Residence building) the university now controls 1,366 beds for students.

Meanwhile, a number of private residential developments have risen on campus, but no new student housing has been constructed.

Nathan Lane, executive director of the Thompson Rivers University Students' Union, told KTW that a number of conditions have led to the crunch, including low vacancy rates to begin with, issues with nearby motels and hotels and two waves of new students: second-year students who did not attend in person last year on top of the usual set of new first-year students.

Lane said backlog of students would normally use nearby hotels and motels in the short term, but even those have faced issues, and have either converted to another type of accommodation or are closed. Lane also said that many third- and fourth-year students likely left their apartments during the first year of COVID to attend university from home, and upon returning would also need accommodation.

"There are definitely people who are still looking for housing," Lane said.

TRU was reportedly looking to construct about 150 units of temporary housing.

Trawin said the city wants to ensure that TRU students live in housing built to the same standards as all Kamloops residents.

"With respect, we do not see this as unreasonable in the circumstances," Trawin wrote.

The Kamloops CAO reiterated that the city has a "strong working relationship" with TRU, and said the city will continue to assist the university by expediting the permitting and inspection process.

The students' union, meanwhile, will make housing an issue this school year, with plans to bring in speakers and hold public events on the matter.