UVic housing forum convenes students, MLAs

Aerial shot of construction. Credit: UVic photo services

The University of Victoria is working with government partners to take action to address an ongoing shortage of affordable rental housing for its students with hundreds of new residence beds in two new buildings set to open this year and next.

The 400 new beds opening in September of this year—plus almost the same number set for 2023—are on top of about 2,100 existing in UVic residences.

Still, with more than 22,000 students—about three quarters of them from outside the Victoria region—the university recognizes the challenges students encounter every year in finding accommodations given the low vacancy rate in Greater Victoria, says Kevin Hall, UVic’s president and vice-chancellor.

This past September was especially difficult for UVic students, with many scrambling to find places to live as more returned to on-campus learning while facing rising rents and low vacancy rates.

“Victoria is not alone in experiencing these dynamics as there is a low vacancy rate right across the country. We are working with partners like the provincial government to find solutions that help our students and other community members,” says Hall. “Stable and affordable housing is a critical component to success for our students, for our community, for the region. Finding solutions to housing challenges here in the Greater Victoria region, across BC and beyond will take an 'all-hands-on-deck’ approach.”

As part of UVic’s ongoing work to help address housing affordability, UVic hosted a town hall on Feb. 3 to discuss these issues. Hall welcomed the Honourable David Eby, attorney general and Minister Responsible for Housing, and the Honourable Murray Rankin, the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, during a virtual town hall on provincial policy regarding housing. The event is the first in a series of collaborations between the university and Rankin’s constituency office in which key policymakers such as Eby discuss issues of importance to UVic students.

Eby and Rankin responded to questions covering topics such as student housing on university campuses, rental housing supply in surrounding communities, and whether the province would step in if municipalities aren’t meeting targets for housing growth.

Supply and demand

In response to questions about housing supply, Eby highlighted challenges related to supply as seen a migration of citizens from across Canada, while supply and purpose-built rentals have not kept pace with a growing population.

He noted it’s crucial to have students, community groups and levels of government working together toward housing solutions.

In addition, Rankin added the province expects municipalities to approve needed housing, including rentals and affordable housing, favoring Oak Bay legalizing secondary suites that help with housing supply for nearby UVic. Both he and Eby emphasized the role public transit can play in the affordability crisis.

Asked whether the province would consider changing laws affecting how cities approve development in areas with single-family housing, Eby indicated his preference to work alongside municipalities to increase housing supply and address affordability.`

“Finding ways to encourage municipalities to do this voluntarily is where we’re at right now,” says Eby.

Support network

UVic has supported its students with housing in a number of ways. For example, last year, UVic was one of a handful of Canadian universities in Canada that paid the registration fees for landlords who list their properties/rooms on a site dedicated to matching students with landlords.

Hall noted some in the university community suggested temporary solutions such as installation of modular housing, conversion of gyms or use of local hotels but added these measures would take months of planning and infrastructure development, and would be prohibitively expensive while not helping students in immediate need.

While the project to add capacity to campus housing is moving ahead as quickly as it can, the university continues to look for other expansion opportunities.

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Keywords: community, student life, administrative, homelessness

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