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British Columbia UBC looks to micro suites to meet increasing demand for student housing

A rendering of the proposed $70-million Gage South Student Residence, opening in 2019, will include the 43 microunits among its 630 beds.

UBC

A soaring demand for student housing is prompting designers working with the University of British Columbia to cram a kitchen, study, bed and bathroom into a suite about half the size of the smallest space currently available to students.

The university is developing 43 145-square-foot microsuites for a new residence complex set to open in 2019.

By comparison, the smallest unit currently available is 230 square feet.

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Andrew Parr, the UBC student housing manager, said the units will feature a pull-down bed, bar-style refrigerator under a countertop grill – no oven – a desk and chair.

He said the most complicated component is the bathroom.

"The idea is that it's almost a drop-in, prefabricated bathroom, so it has a bathroom as shower and a small sink, all integrated," Mr. Parr said in an interview Tuesday.

"You'd go in there, and when you had your shower, you close the door almost like you would in a boat. The entire room would be your shower room."

The toilet would be part of the shower structure, he added.

All of this would be available for $650 to $700 a month, considerably less than the $1,000-a-month standard for housing near UBC's west-side campus.

Mr. Parr said this is uncommon in North America but rather routine in Tokyo or parts of China.

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Still, he said he had never seen a microsuite like this. "I know they exist," he said, but he was not aware of similar housing options at other Canadian universities.

There are 9,460 beds on the UBC campus in various residence options, but there's also a 6,300-student wait list that UBC is trying to tackle by adding 3,000 new beds in five new residences.

The $70-million Gage South Student Residence, opening in 2019, will include the 43 microunits among its 630 beds. But Mr. Parr said the university is prepared to scrap the microsuites if students find them uninhabitable. Widespread consultation is planned in the coming months through town halls, forums, online and by building a model microsuite for display and examination this fall.

Mr. Parr said the microsuites emerged as an option a few months ago. Since then, the university has been working through the idea with the architectural firm designing the Gage complex.

"It begins to address the issue of affordable living while being a student at UBC. That's the crux of the issue," he said.

The suites will be in a building with amenities such as common areas, exercise rooms and retail outlets nearby, helping occupants cope with the limited space.

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"The 145 square feet is their private space, where they can have a good night's sleep, feel safe, study quietly. But it's only a part of their living environment. The rest of the living environment is the urban setting they're in and the broader amenities," Mr. Parr said. "There could be a very negative impact by this kind of living environment, but for some students it could be very positive. It means they could live on campus and be close to their studies and their academic activities in an affordable way."

Aaron Bailey, president of the Alma Mater Society representing UBC students, said Tuesday that the microsuite option would be popular with some students, especially given the price.

"It seems to be a step in the right direction," he said.

Still, he said the society wants to be sure the small space would not restrict students from doing what they need to do to succeed academically and socially, such as being able to prepare healthy meals and properly have guests.

He said he had seen such microsuites during his travels in Europe.

"They do pack in, quite officially, not necessarily so comfortably, a kitchen, a very small en suite bathroom and a sleeping area. It seems to serve students there with what they need."

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