Rental market out of reach for many

Low availability, high prices pose daunting rental situation in Oak Bay

  • Aug. 13, 2016 6:00 p.m.

Tim Collins

News contributor

In a rental market described by Kaye Melliship of the Victoria Housing Society as “hot and unfriendly,” people hoping to find rental accommodation in Oak Bay may find themselves out of luck.

While the vacancy rate in Greater Victoria is approaching the zero mark, the truth in most parts of the region is that rental accommodations can still be found.

Not that it’s an easy process. The low vacancy rate has created a “sellers market,” said Dean Fortin, of the Pacifica Housing Advisory Association.

Anecdotal reports from individuals who have placed ads on sites like Used Victoria make repeated references to “cattle call” showings where prospective tenants arrive at a property only to find a host of other prospective tenants have also been invited to view the potential rental.

In Oak Bay, the very low availability of rental accommodations makes the situation extremely daunting.

Ted Ryerson and his partner have been searching for a home for two months. He said his own experiences have been very frustrating.

“I’ll give you one example. We saw an ad for an apartment on Oak Bay Avenue and made an appointment to see it. We had to wait for over an hour for our turn to view the apartment…they were only showing it to three groups at a time and there were about 20 of us waiting,” he said.

“When it finally came time for our turn, my wife and I were told the property had been rented.”

“We wanted to live in Oak Bay because it’s where my wife grew up and we love the neighbourhood, but we’re going to have to look somewhere else.”

According to Mayor Nils Jensen, it’s not a situation with any easy solutions.

“The last large project we had, I guess, was the Clive back in 2015. That filled up almost immediately and there haven’t been any new applications for large apartment developments since that time,” said Jensen, adding part of the problem is the availability of vacant land to accommodate a new apartment complex.

“There’s just no large undeveloped pieces of land available. Any new units coming on stream now are really going to come from the renovation of existing properties,” said Jensen. “But we are trying to encourage developers to consider other options at the same time.”

One strategy is for businesses to consider adding suites to their business properties as part of any major renovation.

The concept involves housing businesses at the street level and converting other levels of the building to apartment housing.

“It’s a concept we’re encouraging,” said Jensen.

Another option for individuals seeking rental accommodation in Oak Bay may involve the rental of a detached home or a portion of a home that has been converted to a revenue space by the owner. But those rentals don’t tend to come cheaply.

A scan of rental properties in that category revealed several potential rental homes priced in the $2,500 to $4,500 per month range.

“There’s no way we could afford a place at that kind of rent,” said Ryerson.

“We’ve pretty much given up looking in Oak Bay now, and are considering our options in other parts of the city.”

For Jensen, the rental situation is troubling, but not one with any easy solutions.

“It’s a tight market right across Greater Victoria, and the reality is that the nature of our Oak Bay neighbourhoods don’t lend themselves to a massive increase in affordable rental housing,” said Jensen.

“But we’re always open to improvements and if someone has an initiative to increase housing availability, we’re going to listen.”