The University of Victoria (UVic) plans to build a new residence on Ring Road next to the current Student Union Building (left) near existing student residence (right). Wolf Depner/News Staff

UVic plans to expand on-campus housing

Saanich residents will have two opportunities this week to learn more about plans by the University of Victoria (UVic) to build more on-campus student housing, a development that promises to ease housing pressures throughout the community.

UVic announced last month it is moving ahead with the planning for new on-campus housing. The proposed residence will house 600 undergraduate and graduate students, who currently live off-campus. The proposed development would increase the number of on-campus residences to 2,900.

Saanich residents can learn more about this project this week, when the university hosts two public engagement sessions.

The first takes places Thursday in the lobby of UVic’s University Centre from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m, the second Saturday at the Gordon Head Recreation Centre, from 1 to 4 p.m.

The proposed facility would consist of two buildings near the current Student Union Building on Ring Road inside the current residence precinct.

Kristi Simpson, UVIC’s associate vice-president financial planning and operations, said the facility helps the university fulfill the strategic goal of creating more on-campus housing for its students, more than 70 per cent of whom come from outside the region.

“The demand for on-campus housing has exceeded the available space for a number of years, and the addition of more student housing is an important strategic objective for the university,” said Simpson.

It is also a development that will resonate beyond campus borders, including in Saanich, home to a large share of not only UVic students, but also students attending the two Saanich-based campuses of Camosun College, which currently lacks on-campus housing.

Students attending both of these institutions represent a mixed blessing for their local housing market.

While they help finance many mortgages in Saanich, their presence in the local housing market has also stoked competition with non-students for housing in helping to drive up its costs for everybody, a point frequently heard in recent years during various rallies against the rising costs of post-secondary education.

Students leaders have also increasingly lamented the reluctance of landlords to rent to students, whose demand for housing tends to more temporary in alignment with the shorter university year, some eight months in length.

Non-students, meanwhile, such as families and other groups not attending post-secondary education facilities, have more permanent housing needs. Students, in other words, appear to be less attractive tenants than non-students from a financial perspective. This reality has made it difficult for students to find housing that meets their needs, forcing many to take unusual steps, such as living in their vehicles.

Faced with these conditions, UVic students have either looked for housing in cheaper parts of the region, such as the Westshore, trading commuting time for cost, or chosen to forego an education in the region.

UVic’s plans for new on-campus housing offers to counter some of these trendlines. News of the development comes against the backdrop of the 2018 provincial budget, which includes several measures designed to improve the supply of housing. They include among others a program worth $450 million dollars that allows post-secondary institutions to build more on-campus housing.

Local municipal leaders have praised this program, while urging additional measures.

As for UVic’s specific proposal, its Board of Governors will review it in late March for final approval.

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