This is a bimonthly newsletter featuring community updates from Capilano University President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Dangerfield.
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I’ve just returned home from a series of downtown meetings with various community partners. Now, the most important word in that sentence is not, as you might expect, meetings or even partners—but rather, home. As in, some of us are fortunate to have one. It’s a tiny little word with increasingly large significance where the issues of housing and homelessness are top of mind for so many—especially for young people.
Back in 2016 when I first arrived at Capilano University, a survey by the Capilano Student’s Union identified an urgent need and desire for on-campus housing. Even then CapU students were facing the twin barriers of high rents and long commutes—and things have only gotten worse. A little later that same fall, one of our program’s film students made a documentary that followed three students in their search to find affordable housing: one was living in a car; one in a shed; and one in a rented furnace room.
Building a community of support
Those early experiences with students marked me deeply and I now count them among the most important I’ve ever had. Our strategic vision commits us to graduating students who are healthier and happier than when they arrived, and we know from years of research that living among a supportive community of student peers is critically important to good mental health and a successful post-secondary experience. The positive impact of being part of a stable network and building lifetime friendships is substantial; predictably, when social and financial stress goes down, academic performance goes up.
Bringing student housing on campus
Artist rendering by HDR Architecture Associates, Inc. (December 2020)
We leaned into the problem in 2017, working with Darwin Properties to secure affordable off-campus student accommodation in North Vancouver’s Innovation District while strategizing a longer-term on-campus solution. I am delighted to say that last month we realized the dream, announcing that CapU will open its first on-campus student housing in the fall of 2024, with student occupancy expected to begin in January 2025: a $58.2M 362-bed mass timber residence that includes a 250-seat dining hall along with kitchen, lounge and laundry facilities.
Governments and post-secondary working together
It’s a pivotal revitalization and a good news story for sure—but we didn’t get here by ourselves. We couldn’t even consider this project without our municipal and provincial partners. The new CapU student housing project is part of Homes for BC, a 10-year housing plan with a total of 8,000 new student beds on campuses to be built throughout the province by 2028. It’s taken two years of detailed, complex work and an extraordinary commitment at all levels; at no point did anything get put into what I call “the Too Hard box.” It’s an excellent example of how governments and post-secondary can work together, and we need to be doing more of it. We must continue to advocate for—and deliver—diverse and affordable housing options to ensure vibrant communities and a robust economy.
I’m going to leave the last word to someone who has lived experience with the housing problem. Ishita Sharda is an international student who serves as a student housing advisor at CapU’s current off-campus housing site, and she has seen first-hand how students thrive when they feel safe, secure and supported at “home.”
Ishita Sharda, Business Administration student and Student Housing Advisor
“Access to student housing positively impacts students’ quality of life and mental health.”
“Having lived and worked in student housing for over a year, I understand how housing affects the student experience. It can be incredibly difficult for new students—especially international students like myself—to find safe, convenient and affordable accommodation on the North Shore. The new on-campus housing will really help put students’ minds at ease. It will definitely reduce travel costs—we have students who travel for up to two hours to get to campus every day! And it will give students the ability to return to their rooms between hectic class and job schedules. Most importantly, it will help students to make the meaningful bonds like the ones I’ve witnessed over the last year.”