As students return to campus this fall, student representatives at the University of Victoria say their administration and surrounding municipalities need to do more to address a desperate housing situation.
Hundreds of students are competing in a sparse market for low-priced rental units in their return to campus for the first time since the pandemic led to its closure. Each of UVic’s 2,100 on-campus beds has been claimed for the fall semester.
Sherry Mengering said her daughter, a fourth-year UVic student, has been trying to locate a new home after agreeing to terminate her current lease on Aug. 31. Since June, she and her roommate have spent hours searching daily.
“They have had only one viewing, for which they were declined, being told that the landlord prefers not to rent to students,” Mengering said. Her daughter will likely have to miss the semester to join her mother in Calgary at the end of August.
A solution exists with updating “outdated” policies in the neighbouring District of Oak Bay, said Robin Pollard, a UVic student and campaigns director of the school’s students’ society. The district’s bylaw 4108, written in 2001, allows only three unrelated people to reside in a house, despite most having been built to support large families with five bedrooms, she said. As a result, several students rent Oak Bay homes “illegally,” with more than three unrelated occupants.
Secondary accommodations – such as a basement or attached suites – also remain illegal under Oak Bay’s zoning bylaw. They’re currently being reviewed by a secondary suites study that, if approved by Oak Bay council in September, would allow secondary accommodations in single-family homes. The district estimates that 750 unregulated secondary suites exist there currently.
As long as both bylaws remain in place, Pollard said the District of Oak Bay is actively working against students. “Whether it’s having university students working in the coffee shops and shopping at their stores … Oak Bay benefits from having a vibrant university community on their doorstep,” she said.
Administration at the University of Victoria could also do more to advocate for their students living in different communities, Pollard said, by holding positions on housing boards or interest groups.
“The Oak Bay Housing Association or the Gordon Head Residents Association … building relationships with those groups and then making those spaces welcoming to students would be great,” she said. “We had student volunteers on housing boards in the past, and it’s often quite a hostile environment.”
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