I LIVE NEAR a bottle depot, so it is not unusual for me to see someone with all their possessions pushing a shopping cart down my street. But Kamloops is small enough, that most of us have ongoing encounters of one sort or another with people who struggle finding housing.
Thankfully there are some amazing people who work to find solutions.
This week, the City of Kamloops, and Kamloops as a whole, has lost such an amazing asset with the departure of Jen Casorso, Social and Community Development Supervisor. Our loss, but a gain for the entire region as she takes on a role with a consulting firm working with local governments.
At the City of Kamloops, Casorso filled many roles, but one she is most known for was as a leader in housing solutions.
Casorso built relationships by attending hundreds of hours of community consultation meetings with neighborhoods across Kamloops, and ongoing meeting with not-for-profits such as ASK Wellness and Canadian Mental Health. She liaised with the provincial BC Housing and our MLAs, and presented possible projects to City Council. Her relationships were key in getting housing built in Kamloops.
Relationships were not all that was needed. Casorso helped others secure funding such as from BC Housing for the new modular housing to be built on Tranquille and on St. Paul, the all-winter Out of the Cold program this last winter at Stuart Wood, and the affordable seniors’ housing built by Oncore at Mayfair. Property tax exemptions were another tool in Casorso’s and the City of Kamloops’ toolkit. It has helped private developers who are building affordable market housing on the corner of Tranquille and Clapperton.
Casorso has helped both not-for-profits and for-profit companies build and renovate housing that meets the needs of lower income community members. Seniors, people with disabilities and chronic health issues, and single parents have all benefited from her work.
Housing demands have been strong for a number of years in Kamloops, making the cost of housing ever more expensive. There are many reasons including the exodus from the Lower Mainland, a strong resource based economy, and a growing hub for regional medical services.
One reason that doesn’t get discussed enough is the demands Thompson Rivers University students put on Kamloops’ affordable housing stock.
At present, TRU has over 13,000 on-campus students. Of these, close to 25 per cent of them are international students, and a large number of others either no longer live with their parents, or are from out of town.
At the same time, TRU on-campus student housing has been stagnant at 880 units for students. To put it in perspective, in May 2018 alone, there were more than that many new international students who arrived in Kamloops for the first time and needed housing.
As well, even though the average age of a TRU student is 25 years old, none of the 880 on-campus units are for married couples or students with children.
TRU students compete with others in Kamloops for the available low-cost housing in the community.
As the number of students at TRU grows, and more importantly, the numbers of out-of-town, older and international students grow, more on-campus housing for students is required.
TRU is experiencing an unprecedented building boom. Currently an engineering building, a nursing building, and privately developed market housing (for up to $0.5 million per unit) are being built. What isn’t being built by TRU right now is housing for students.
Building student housing at TRU has been at a standstill since 2006, when the 11-story TRU Residence and Conference Centre was built.
A lot has changed since 2006. In 2006, there was no Law School and there were a grand total of 51 graduate and post-baccalaureate students. In 2006, there were only 1,300 international students on campus. Now there are over 670 students in Law, Masters and Post-Bacc programs and the number of international students has more than doubled. And yet there is no new housing at TRU for students.
It’s true that the previous provincial government did not allow post-secondary institutions to borrow for student housing. However, with the new provincial government, there is opportunity to shift this policy. As well, TRU has reserve funds. This year, TRU is spending $12 million from reserve funds, but not on student housing.
As various players in the community work to create affordable housing options for our community members, Jennifer Carsorso has left a strong legacy through her work at the City of Kamloops. We’ve been lucky to have her make our city a better place to live for all of us.
However, unless TRU comes to the table, and provides more on-campus housing options for its students, I fear that Carsorso’s good work in housing will be wiped out by the increasing demands by TRU students on our city’s affordable housing stock.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.