As student enrolment at Vancouver Island University grows, so does interest from private developers in student housing projects.
The city is reviewing the development permit submitted by Vancouver-based Great-West Developments Ltd., for a 25-unit, 37-bed student housing complex on Wakesiah Avenue, across from the university.
And Jeremy Holm, the city’s manager of current planning, said a few other developers have expressed an interest in similar projects.
Enrolment increased almost seven per cent at VIU campuses last fall and the institution saw a 4.5-per cent increase the year before.
Maureen Pilcher, a land-use consultant representing Great-West, said the company’s owner, Manjit Bal, saw a need for more off-campus student housing.
Bal bought the two properties across the street from VIU, one of which currently has a house on it.
“We’ve been working on this for two years,” said Pilcher. “There aren’t any other student housing projects in Nanaimo, so there were no rules for me to follow.”
She said the company anticipates filling the units easily once they’re complete.
The new units can’t come soon enough for Andrea Blakeman, manager of VIU’s homestay program.
“There’s a great need for off-campus housing,” she said. “It doesn’t suit a lot of students to be in a homestay situation, but there aren’t a lot of other options.”
The university helps between 900 and 1,100 international students find lodgings around the city – in homes or other locations like the Howard Johnson Hotel, said Blakeman.
And that’s just the international students, she added. With about 11,000 students at the Nanaimo campus and less than 400 dorm rooms on site, finding a place to live can be a challenge, especially if students want to try to find a place that is already furnished or close to school.
Ric Kelm, VIU’s executive director of infrastructure and ancillary services, said staff plan to do a market analysis to determine how much demand there is for housing in the near future.
The Campus Master Plan calls for the construction of an additional 1,000 units on campus, but this is just a preliminary estimate, he said.
“Now we have to get much harder numbers,” said Kelm, adding the market analysis will also look at potential funding sources for building projects.
There were about 700 applicants for the university’s 386 dorm rooms last fall, he said, so there’s no question that more is needed.
“We could put double what we have and fill it,” said Kelm.
Holm said Great-West Developments is the first company to get this far in the process – the company could break ground as early as this summer provided all the details are sorted out – but the city has heard from several other developers interested in building student housing near the university.
One company has submitted a rezoning application for a property on Third Street for building student housing, mixed-use residential and commercial units and townhouses, he said.