Update: SFU Residences in the heart of Vancouver

The new SFU building, Charles Chang Innovation Centre, sits on the corner of Hastings and Hamilton (308 West Hastings Street). Situated at the heart of SFU’s downtown campus, located between the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and Harbour Centre, and within walking distance to the Segal Graduate School of Business.  

“It’s a vibrant and neat place to be [. . .] with a nice urban community,” said Tracey Mason-Innes, director of Residence and Housing at SFU.

The facility was a three-year collaborative operation between SFU’s residence and housing, facility and operations, and the Beedie School of Business. “The collaboration worked very well and everyone had an input,” said Kirk Hill, assistant dean of alumni and external relations at the Beedie School of Business.

The development of the initiative was further influenced by SFU alumnus Charles Chang’s donation of $10 million earlier this year. Chang donated the money towards a new building in support of innovation and to accelerate entrepreneurship throughout the university.

The new building was developed from a Beedie perspective and with Beedie students in mind. Priority was given to providing residences for students in the graduate programs. Undergrad students were not eligible to apply for the building.

The demand for housing is consistent and there will be a constant catch-up, said Mason-Innes.  

In September, Mason-Innes expressed to The Vancouver Sun her concern for available housing for students, explaining that Burnaby campus housing experienced a larger than normal wait-list this fall.

Hill also expressed his concerns for lack of student housing. “The problem that some people don’t know is that the provincial government doesn’t like to allow universities to have debt,” he explained, “[but] there is definitely a need and the university recognizes it.”

It becomes a matter of “who do we focus on first” and determining what each campus needs, expressed Mason-Innes.  

In a recent feature in The Peak, Tim Rahilly, vice-provost and associate VP students at SFU, addressed the issues allowing universities to run a deficit. He provided a document from the province stating that this could only happen “under extraordinary circumstances.” Associate VP finance, Alison Blair, said that SFU has been denied to borrow money over the last four years.

There is also a need driven by students’ concern over affordable and accessible housing around the campuses. Since the closure of Louis Riel House in 2015, graduate students in particular only have one dedicated building up on Burnaby Mountain, Hamilton Hall, with a limited capacity of 103 residents and a rent of $3,252 per term.

With the Charles Chang Innovation Centre, the university has provided apartment-style accommodations for the SFU graduate students downtown. There are 68 rooms available for the students, with 36 studio suites and 16 two-bedroom units. Some studios come with an extra study attached. “Of the population, around 60 percent are Beedie graduates while the other 40 percent were students from the other 14 graduate programs,” says Hill. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a piece of land downtown.”

The residences are offered at per term rate of $4,800 for the single studio, $3,400 for a two-bedroom, and $3,800 for a two-bedroom with an additional study space.

The campaign to attract residents, which began in June, was very quickly sold out by September. A few students arrived during the summer, but the majority moved in September. There has been positive feedback from the residents living there. Hill mentioned, “[It’s an] immense way to bring students together.”

“It’s self-sufficient [and the] community is really tight,” said Mason-Innes.

The second floor is the base of the Innovation Centre, and moved into the building around the end of August. It is the home of Radical Ideas, Useful to Society (RADIUS), a special innovation lab and venture incubator that aims to support SFU students and social innovations at all stages of their career.

“There are a few technical details still to work through, but the centre is largely up and running and the programs are happening,” said Hill.

There is a fellowship program for social innovators that will soon be recruiting for its next Radical Doing program. Then, in January, a new certificate of science and technology commercialization is being offered as a joint project between UBC and SFU.

The first floor on the ground level will be occupied by a third-party, operating a café called Nemesis. The café was developed by Jeff Reno after two years of research. At its base, Nemesis will offer gourmet coffee and will be partnering with rising chefs from around the city.  The cafe is set to open in November.

Both Hill and Mason-Innes agreed that there is a demand for space, and perhaps more could be established and expanded upon for the different campuses — Burnaby, Vancouver, and Surrey. Rahilly told The Peak in September that talks have been conducted with UniverCity to build “low end of market” units in place of Louis Riel. Currently, SFU has approximately $11 million every year in “need-based funding.”

In looking towards the future, SFU’s Residence and Housing plans to continue evaluating what needs to be focused on. It will be a slow progress, said Mason-Innes, but part of the plan is to build a new graduate building on SFU Burnaby as soon as possible.