On Tuesday, Oct. 18, I’ll be hosting a town hall on housing and affordability with four expert panelists. Each speaker comes from a different housing-related background, so they’ll bring a diverse range of perspectives and considerations to our discussion about the complex, multifaceted challenges facing our housing market.
Over the course of the evening we’ll discuss policy and market conditions that have led to our current situation, analyze the immediate challenges we face and look at where we can go from here. We’ll explore what can be done now to increase housing and rental stock and how we can prepare for the future. And, the fundamental question that underpins everything, what do we want our communities to look like in coming years?
Everyone is more than qualified to speak to the concept of a community vision, and I want to give you the opportunity to do so. Reserving plenty of time for audience questions, comments, and discussion is a priority for the event.
In addition to a community housing advocate and three-term municipal councilor, the Director of the Victoria Real Estate Board and the executive director of Generation Squeeze, one of our panelists will be Alex McGowan, chair of the Alliance of B.C. Students. McGowan and his colleagues recently released a report on the influence student housing demands have on a housing market in crisis. They urge the B.C. government to amend existing restrictions on public entity debt that prevents post-secondary institutions from building more on-campus residences.
“We know that as students, we often occupy the low end of the rental spectrum; what we might not realize is who we may be squeezing out of the market altogether,” McGowan said. “Getting students on campus and out of the rental market helps everyone, including the single parent struggling to find housing, the minimum-wage worker who can’t find a rental they can afford, and those who are currently in housing, but spending more than 50 per cent of their income on rent. Our proposal could go a long way to helping B.C.’s rental market come back to a normal level, and at very little cost to the government. It’s time to help students, improve the quality of education and help alleviate the housing crisis that is hurting everyone.”
Preventing post-secondary institutions from taking on the debt to build more housing on their land is defended by the need to protect B.C.’s high credit rating. While that is indeed important, debt undertaken to build campus housing in B.C.’s desperate market would not impact the government’s credit rating as it would be entirely self-supporting through residence fees.
In the last 10 years, the number of full-time students in B.C. has steadily grown and the number of international students has nearly doubled, yet very few new residence spaces have opened.
In 2014/2015 there were 10,900 students on waitlists for campus housing in B.C., nearly 3,000 of which were on the UVic list alone. UVic has 2,481 residence spaces and in 2014 had 16,649 full-time students. With a rental vacancy rate around 0.6 in Victoria, there is clearly an unsustainable discrepancy between the demand for affordable housing and the supply.
As McGowan and the Alliance of B.C. Students have noted, building more student housing is not just about students. It is about alleviating some of the pressure on an overstretched rental market in a timely and responsible manner.
I hope you’ll join us on Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Gibson Auditorium at Camosun College (Landsdowne Campus Young Building 216) to discuss this, and other solutions, in greater detail.
Andrew Weaver is MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and leader of the B.C. Green Party.