Column: Rental crisis needs attention now

Current rental crisis alarming as students return to college, university

When I analyzed the rental market in my riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head, in the Greater Victoria area, I wasn’t surprised by how bad it has gotten. I know the rental availability rate is at 0.6 per cent in Victoria, I have spoken to residents desperately trying to find an affordable home, I have watched skyrocketing housing prices drag the rental market with them, I have heard about homeless UVic and Camosun students sleeping in cars.

I wasn’t surprised as I looked through the rental listings online, but I was very angry.

For several years now I have been raising housing issues in the legislature. The government has responded dismissively, refusing to acknowledge the housing crisis that loomed before us. Now, fresh into an election year, protecting the dream of homeownership has apparently become their motto. They are throwing hastily put together, Vancouver-centric Band-Aid policies at a housing emergency that is reverberating through the entire province.

The B.C. government has failed to protect a fundamental right for British Columbians and with the start of the school year fast approaching, I am getting increasingly concerned about where the university and college students in our riding will live.

The University of Victoria alone enrolls more than 21,000 students. Many UVic and Camosun students will live in residence or with family – UVic has 2,300 residence beds and 180 family housing units – but many others will need to find somewhere to rent for the year. On Aug. 9 my office went through every Oak Bay and Gordon Head rental listing on Craigslist. There were only 106 and they ranged from $700 per month for a one-bedroom basement suite to $10,000 for a six-bedroom house.

Of the 106 listings, 29 fit my vaguely affordable cutoff of less than $1,000 monthly per person. Most of them were multiple bedroom suites that would have to be split between roommates. The $2,700 three-bedroom unit, for example, could be shared at $900 per occupant. Not exactly cheap for a student without an income, but more attainable than the $1,500 being charged for a 450-square-foot basement suite. With so few listings, I worry student renters will be chosen last when bidding against professionals or families. I had a staff member contact a few of the listings I thought would be suitable for roommates to ask if they would rent to a group of students and none replied.

For individuals or couples hoping to find a one-bedroom suite for under $1,000 in my riding, on the day I checked, seven were listed.

Some welcomed higher bids and many apologized for not being able to respond to every inquiry, citing an overwhelming number of applications. But frustrations with the rental market should not be deflected onto landlords, they too are trying to manage costs in an unhinged housing market.

Frustration, anger and outrage about housing in B.C. needs to land squarely with the B.C. government for actively neglecting this issue until it became a crisis. As Frances Bula wrote in The Globe and Mail, the housing market has long treated renters like second-class citizens and the current housing shortage is further excluding people who are young, non-white, have mental health issues, are unemployed, recent immigrants, poor, disabled, or have pets.

Our government needs to move beyond their dream of homeownership talking point. The rental market crisis in British Columbia is in desperate need of attention. We need policies that work to get people into safe, affordable homes – like those I have repeatedly outlined for the government – and we need it to start now so that come September students won’t be left sleeping on library benches.

Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bau-Gordon Head and leader of the B.C. Green Party.

 

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