Students from the University of Victoria, Camosun College and tenant advocates will rally Saturday during the public hearing for Saanich’s unrelated occupancy bylaw.
Currently, the number of unrelated residents allowed to share a home in Saanich is limited to four. Some say the bylaw is unfair while others worry about problems that could be created for neighbours if more unrelated individuals are permitted to reside in a single home.
Saanich council has proposed an amendment to the zoning bylaw to increase the number of unrelated people who can share a home from four to six. Residents and community members will be able to have their say on the zoning amendment at the Saturday hearing which will take place via conference call at 10 a.m. Participation is expected to be high as unrelated occupancy is an “item that has considerable community interest,” according to Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes.
The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) says the current bylaw limits the supply of affordable housing and exacerbates the local housing crisis. Students who cannot afford to rent legally feel forced to live above occupancy limits which leaves them without tenant protections and puts them at risk of abuse, predatory landlords and living in unsafe or illegal spaces, the Society says.
“You can’t leave an unsafe home if you can’t find another one,” says UVSS director of campaigns and community relations Emily Lowan. “Although this is just the first step, the proposed amendment improves both housing availability and affordability in Saanich and will help make Saanich a safer place for its residents.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted community members, particularly those who are low-income and marginalized according to UVSS. Those same individuals are “disproportionately” affected by unaffordable and inaccessible housing, UVSS says.
“It typically costs over $1,500 a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Saanich, if you can even find one. That’s simply out of reach for the majority of single people in this municipality,” says Ethan Dennett a steering committee member of the Victoria Tenant Action Group.
He says students and other renters pay as much as half of their incomes for rent and even sleep in cars and on couches while going to school in some cases. Dennett says municipalities should be working to lessen the housing crisis.
Anyone wishing to speak at the public hearing is asked to register by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-475-5501 before noon on June 19. Residents must indicate which meeting they wish to speak at and the topic they’ll address.
Instructions for participation will be sent to the registered participants by e-mail and speakers are asked to tune in to the live stream at saanich.ca for information about when to call in.
Written comments can be submitted by e-mail, mail or in the drop box outside municipal hall until noon the day before the hearing. All correspondence will be part of the public record.
“This bylaw is not about parking, it is not about noise disturbances and it’s not about unsightly premises,” says Emma Edmonds, a UVic student who was evicted in 2019 due to the Saanich bylaw.
She says the “unnecessary” bylaw impacts students and low-income renters and that the “criminalization” of roommates should be stopped.
“All residents in Saanich deserve to feel safe and secure in their homes.”
–With files from Devon Bidal