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TRU turns to hotel rooms to house students in need of housing

The university's previous solution to build work camp-style housing, which was to be erected in a campus parking lot, was rejected by the City of Kamloops due to non-compliance with the BC Building Code
TWU Jacobson Hall
Jacobson Hall is a modular housing project constructed at Trinity Western University in Langley in 2018. It is cited by TRU officials as an example of a potential solution to the housing crunch students in Kamloops are facing.

Thompson Rivers University has turned to hotels to house students put out by the city's dearth of affordable housing.

The university's previous solution to build work camp-style housing, which was to be erected in a campus parking lot, was rejected by the City of Kamloops due to non-compliance with the BC Building Code.

Instead, the university will house students in hotels at least until the fall semester, which ends in December, and possibly longer.

The issue came about quickly, from the university's perspective, which had 40 empty beds for students as of early August.

"And then, all of a sudden, second week of August, they were snatched up. Waiting lists across all of our buildings were more than 100 bodies and we started hearing from TRUSU [TRU Students' Union] and others that no one could find a place to live," TRU vice-president Matt Milovick said.

In September 2019, when the school saw its highest-ever enrolment, Milovick said there were still 90 beds available in mid-September.

The university was also caught off-guard by a number of other factors that led to the shortage. Milovick cited extra use of accommodation by wildfire evacuees and Trans Mountain pipeline workers, loss of accommodation in nearby hotels due to fire damage or conversion to social housing and a generally low vacancy rate to begin with.

"We recruit students from all over the world, from across the province, from outside of Kamloops. It's always been a fairly tight housing market, but we've always had the capacity before," Milovick told KTW.

The modular housing solution first proposed by TRU could have been built quickly, but the city shut that proposal down, citing safety concerns stemming from requested variances to the building code.

Milovick said the issue is that the modular housing units TRU was looking to use, which could have been installed quickly, are built to Alberta building code standards for industrial camps.

"They don't strictly adhere to the BC Building Code. But all of the life-safety issues that were identified by the city, we felt we could address those, albeit in a different way," he said, pointing to how such housing is used for other reasons, such as social housing and temporary work camps.

Retrofitting those modular units would have taken the bulk of the school year, so Milovick said there was no point in returning to the that proposal.

For their hotels, students will pay a rate comparable to the temporary dorms TRU was looking to construct — about $500 a month, Milovick said.

TRU has made arrangements with some area hotels to ensure the solution is affordable and will offer emergency bursaries to make up the difference when needed.

For a long-term solution, Milovick said the options are still being considered. But he did point to a 2018 modular housing project constructed at Trinity Western University as an example of a potential solution.

"They come together pretty quick," Milovick said.

In recent years, the TRU Community Trust — a private development arm of the university — has brought four private residential developments to campus, including two condominium buildings and two rental buildings, though only one rental building is up and running so far.

Milovick said about 50 per cent of the rentals are currently used by students and some condos are being rented out by owners.

But affordable housing purpose-built for students is limited to TRU's current capacity of 1,366 beds, available at the North Tower residence building, the dated McGill Residence and the East Village, formerly known as Upper College Heights, located across Summit Drive from the university.

Milovick said that within 10 years, the McGill housing will be torn down to make space for new developments along McGill Road. To replace that capacity, a new project will be erected on 2.5 acres of available land in the East Village.

When that work will be done remains unknown, but Milovick said it might happen sooner, rather than later.

"The big risk for us is, is this a blip or is it a real thing? Because if you go and spend several million dollars, and I'm talking over $10 million to build something like that, and it's empty, you've got another problem, right?" Milovick said.