Rental market “hot and unfriendly”

Victoria rental market especially challenging for pet owners and families with young children.

An ad from a classified site reads: “I am looking for a rental with (sic) immediate possession as my daughter and I have been staying in a tent for three days now.” It goes on to state the person posting the ad has excellent references and a stable income.

The ad is perhaps an extreme indicator of the desperate Victoria rental market where the vacancy rate has effectively become zero (it’s estimated at 0.6 per cent), but according to Kaye Melliship of the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS), the ad’s desperate tone is not an aberration in today’s market.

“With a zero per cent vacancy rate, it’s a hot and unfriendly market out there right now. Everyone is aware of the situation but there’s very little advice I can offer to anyone looking for accommodations. We’re doing our best to add more rental units to the market but it’s a long process and it’s not going to happen overnight,” said Melliship.

The GVHS is a non-profit society dedicated to providing affordable, stable housing in the City of Victoria. It currently owns 16 properties with 765 rental units — all of them occupied.

Other non-profits, like the Pacifica Housing Advisory Association, have also seen the impact of the tight rental market. Pacifica is an organization operating 850 units with another 108 currently under construction, and expected to come available in December.

Dean Fortin, Pacifica’s executive director, remains optimistic that solutions to the rental crisis can be found, but acknowledges that his organization has a waiting list of 1,500 individuals looking for affordable housing.

For Julius Gusman and his partner Devie, the search for rental accommodations was a six-week ordeal during which they spent several hours a day scouring rental ads and attending viewings and interviews with prospective landlords.

“It was very frustrating at times,” said Gusman, who moved to Victoria from Courtenay to take advantage of job opportunities as a carpenter. “We would respond to an ad that had been posted 25 minutes earlier only to be told there were already 16 people signed up to view the property.”

He added the viewing and interview process was often a “cattle call” where up to 30 other prospective tenants were herded through a property and found themselves competing for consideration as tenants.

“It really is a competition where landlords are asking for bank statements, references, credit checks, and even the make and model of your car,” said Gusman. He and his partner had sold their own home to move to Victoria and, as a result, didn’t have previous rental references, a situation that disqualified them from consideration in several instances.

Other factors, such as family makeup can have a serious impact in a search for housing.

“I’m a single mom with a six-year-old daughter and the number of times I’ve been told I won’t even be considered with a child is amazing,” said Nichole Makiewicz, whose own search for a rental home is now entering its fourth week. “I answer ads where they ask if I have children and don’t even get a response. One guy told me that he wouldn’t consider kids under seven in the same way he wouldn’t consider dogs or cats.”

Pets or large families also tend to have a chilling effect on qualifying for a rental property, according to Melliship. Both she and Fortin said their organizations exist in an effort to bring affordable housing to Victoria, but both acknowledge that there are no quick fix solutions.

As for Gusman, he and his partner managed to find accommodations in an older property near downtown.

“We found it through word of mouth,” said Gusman. “A friend of a friend was moving out of a place and recommended us to his landlord. I met the gentleman before he had even advertised the vacancy and managed to get the place. I think that it might have been the only way we were ever going to get a place to live.”