Weeks away from the start of the semester, many post-secondary students are struggling to find affordable places to live amid high costs of living and low vacancy rates in Greater Victoria’s rental market.
In the last month, Eva Dillon and Abigail Stephen, third-year students at the University of Victoria, said they have responded to more than 50 online housing ads and visited nearly 20 potential places.
“We knew going into it that it was going to be really hard because everybody’s looking for leases starting in September,” Dillon said. “It’s a ton of competition … and there’s so much demand.”
During their housing search, the two girls, along with one other friend, have experienced everything from scams, competitive offers, impersonal group showings and houses that weren’t as advertised.
But this summer is not the beginning of their housing struggles — instead, they refer to it as “just another episode.” Over the last two years, they have lived in five different homes.
In January, the basement of their promising five-bedroom house in Gordon Head flooded and Stephen got sick after black mould started growing in her bedroom. With the landlord unwilling to fix it, they have had no choice but to bounce around between temporary sublets and Airbnbs while trying to secure long-term housing.
“We found something that had the promise of being so good, and then to have it ripped away and to feel like we’re stuck at the beginning again is hard,” Dillon said.
Camosun College student Sam Tyson said he’s watched rental prices “increase steadily” since moving to Victoria in 2019. While he used to see one-bedroom apartments just outside the city for $1,000 per month, now it’s difficult to find a room in a shared house for less.
He currently pays $1,000 per month plus utilities for a room in a five-bedroom house in Gordon Head. He’s working two jobs to support himself amid skyrocketing costs of living.
“A solid half of the paycheque is just going to paying rent and then I still have all the accompanying bills, then I’m spending $100 to buy one small bag of groceries,” he said. “Then you only have a couple hundred dollars a month just to have a life with. It’s hard,” he said.
After encountering many landlords who increase rent prices solely for personal profit, Tyson added the hardest part of navigating the housing market as a new student is “knowing who to trust.”
“It just really takes the wind out of people’s sails,” he said. “This is their first impression of real adult life, to pay $1,000 to have some roommates in a house.”
Dillon and Stephen said they have also developed “major trust issues” after landlords pit them against other prospective tenants to secure the best price. They’ve attended showings where the landlord informs them of another offer at $100 more per bedroom than the listed price and asks them to match it.
A landlord once told them they were instead going to rent to a family who had offered the first three months’ rent and $1,000 more per month. Stephen said it immediately took any students who had applied out of the running.
“We can’t offer that when school starts in three weeks,” Stephen said. “The fact that you have to spend money on books and pay your tuition and pay the damage deposit and the first month’s rent, all of that adds up to a big huge amount just going out of your bank.”
Finding an accessible location is another major hurdle for the many students who rely on public transit to get to class on time. Many student-oriented listings are in inaccessible areas of the city where the closest bus stop is a 15-minute walk away and where buses only come every 40 minutes.
Dillon and Stephen have also started to consider a reality where they don’t live with their friends and just rent out single rooms in different spots.
But with Dillon’s family in Ottawa and Stephen’s in Kuwait, having friends as an accessible support system is vital to their well-being.
“Living with my friends and having people that I can rely on if I have a hard day and chat with at the kitchen table is so important,” Dillon said.
“It’s either you live with your friends, or you live alone and just go through it,” Stephen added. “And that’s what it’s come to with housing and it’s so hard to even put yourself on the list for single-bedroom listings and think about that possibility.”