30 Under 30: Julian Wells hammers new ideas into B.C. real estate with Student Housing Initiative

Victoria-based SHI folds student perspectives into new policies and developments in the province

Julian Wells | Age: 21

Co-founder and principal, Student Housing Initiative

Life Story: In February, Tim Chen’s story went viral. The UBC student said he would rather live with his parents in Calgary and spend $1,200 on flights per month than spend at least $2,100 in rent for a one-bedroom in Vancouver.

“Students are not being treated equitably in the housing market,” says Julian Wells, co-founder and principal of Victoria-based research consulting organization Student Housing Initiative (SHI). Most students don’t have the credit and rental histories to compete for housing with people who have full-time jobs, yet that’s the situation they’re in. Wells, for example, lived on campus as a first-year UVic student from Toronto but struggled to find a place the following year.

“I signed a lease, like, three days before I moved in,” he recalls. “I was working three jobs and I couldn’t really afford vegetables because my rent was so expensive.”

While running UVic’s real estate club, Wells, who is studying economics and political science, saw an opportunity to build data-driven reports that could weave student perspectives into new policies and developments. So he launched SHI with peers Grace Murphy and Jonathan Cook in 2023.

An SHI survey conducted across five Canadian campuses revealed that 50 percent of students think their rent is unaffordable and 74 percent prefer transit-based walkable communities. “We have to remember that we’re building cities for people currently,” stresses Wells, “not just for the people who will be living in them in the future.”

Bottom Line: SHI conducts studies to help real estate leaders, institutions and governments consider students when planning housing projects and policies. In 2023, it raised $14,000 to survey 200 students across Canada and gave $3,000 back as tuition grants. It has also been involved in the creation of more than 4,000 new housing units in Victoria and Vancouver, says Wells: SHI insights were quoted in the approval of four housing projects and considered in the development of several more.