Home Education Post-Secondary NDP leader discusses housing crisis with grad students at UVic

NDP leader discusses housing crisis with grad students at UVic

Jagmeet Singh: Housing supply boost urgently needed across the board, including students.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Laurel Collins, MP (Victoria) addressed media at the UVic campus, accompanied by grad students, Aug 30, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Wednesday August 30, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Last updated 9:15 pm]

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

The housing crisis is evident everywhere across Canada, and is particularly harsh in BC, even more so for post-secondary students including here in Greater Victoria.

There are three major post-secondary institutions in Victoria: University of Victoria (UVic), Camosun College, and Royal Roads University (RRU).

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was at the University of Victoria campus today, hearing from grad students about the challenges they are experiencing in finding a place to live.

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Grad students at the University of Victoria were excited to meet NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh today, on their own turf on campus, Aug 30, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Several of those grad students then joined Singh for a live media session outside the building, where the NDP Leader repeated his observation that during 18 years of federal governments (10 years Conservative, eight years Liberal) little to nothing was done to build enough housing supply (including rentals) or to find better ways for housing and rentals to be affordable for Canadians.

Singh explained how the housing market in Canada is designed to support developers and investors but is “not designed to give homes to families”. He said that Canada’s housing market costs are “among the worst in the world”.

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On-campus housing at the University of Victoria, Aug 30, 2023. [Island Social Trends]

Singh pointed out that “an average one-bedroom apartment costs $2,000 a month and getting a place close to your university or college is extremely challenging”. He said about 10 percent of UVic students have access to on-campus housing; latest figures from UVic say it’s around 13.5 percent, but that still leaves a lot of students searching for accommodation.

It should be noted that most students have access to student loans, which are now interest-free both federally and in BC.

Education/Housing combo:

Singh repeated his idea about student housing be coordinated through three-way funding: federal, provincial and post-secondary institutions.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Laurel Collins, MP (Victoria) addressed media at the UVic campus, accompanied by grad students, Aug 30, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

He’s been saying for a few weeks now that student permits (for international students to study in Canada) should be issued in alignment with the availability of places for them to live.

Federal housing and immigration policies — as well as collaboration with post-secondary institutes — would be needed. Presently the process of finding housing for international students is left up to individual education institutions (including at the school district high school level in BC).

Federal grants might be part of provincial housing strategies to increase rental accommodation, such as the program in BC where homeowners can receive funds to build a secondary suite so long as the new suites are rented for at least five years.

The NDP also suggests that federal land and vacant office building spaces be used for additional student housing.

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Media gathered at UVic to cover NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s housing media session, Aug 30, 2023.

Impacts on grad students & their contributions:

Before today, Singh had heard stories of students living in tents or vans before perhaps finally landing a place with a firm roof over their head. Today he chatted for a while with grad students inside the George and Ida Halpern Graduate Students Centre building, hearing how their modest income as grad students is not nearly enough to pay for rents in a sky-high housing rental market.

One UVic grad student, Greg Gaube (PhD chemistry student), told Island Social Trends today that there is a brain drain of grad students (Masters and PhD) — especially in the sciences — to the United States and Europe where job pay is better and housing availability is greater. He said the cost of living here in Canada “is completely unreasonable”.

The loss of this science expertise can have long-term impacts through lack of progress in health sciences and technology, said bio-science PhD grad student Sean Waugh, who points out that grad students are paid what is the equivalent of below minimum wage.

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Also a challenge for Camosun College students:

Camosun College has no on-campus student housing at either of their locations in Saanich (Lansdowne and Interurban).

“Camosun is currently working with the provincial government to bring on-campus housing the Lansdowne,” said Rodney Porter, Executive Director, Communications and Marketing, Camosun College in a statement to Island Social Trends yesterday.

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The Camosun College Student Society currently maintains an online database of off-campus housing that connects students to homestays, matches local landlords to students, and helps students find roommates.

“We do know that finding affordable housing in the region is a major challenge. We are hearing stories of students having to travel further out from the campuses to find places to live, and community from the West Shore, for example,” said Porter.

Major educational obstacle says Royal Roads:

Inaccessible housing is one of the major obstacles to post-secondary education and skills training for students in the West Shore and the region, says Royal Roads University (RRU) in a statement to Island Social Trends today.

“RRU works with local and provincial governments to advocate for student housing wherever possible. We support the provincial government’s goals of building new on-campus affordable homes for students.” Royal Roads says that students who live on campus tend to have more positive learning and social experiences due to their proximity to resources, supports and peers.

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Day-long concrete pour at the Royal Roads University West Shore Campus at 798 Goldstream Ave in Langford, February 1, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

The main Royal Roads campus is located in Colwood, with some on-campus accommodation. A new Royal Roads West Shore Campus is scheduled to open in September 2024 with the expectation that student registrations will be from local west shore students who will continue to live at home as a way to reduce the cost of attending post-secondary.

Overall student populations have dropped since COVID:

Most colleges and institutes in BC have seen a student head count drop since the pandemic hit. The only institutes that have seen a slight gain in student population (domestic and international) are the Justice Institute of BC, and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Other than the largest universities (UBC, UVic, SFU and UNBC), only Royal Roads University and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design have seen student population increases, and even those have been modest gains.

In light of all that, the housing challenge for students should — mathematically speaking — be somewhat less than in years past.

But the cost of housing across the economy has changed the matrix of housing uses in communities. That includes suites that might have been available to students now being used by extended family members, as those who own or rent houses, townhomes and condos help their own families first. As well, the use of suites or houses rentals for short-term tourism income (e.g. Airbnb and Vrbo) is eating into regular housing supply, as pointed out by BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon earlier this week.



Island Social Trends has been covering news of the west shore and south Vancouver Island since mid-2020 — news is published daily at IslandSocialTrends.ca; previously published as West Shore Voice News (2014-2020), and before that Sooke Voice News (2011-2013) and MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010).

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Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke,

For all those publications, the founding editor and publisher is Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR.

Ms Brooke was nominated this year for a Jack Webster Award that recognizes contribution to community by a woman in professional journalism.

Mary P Brooke began reporting remotely with the BC Legislative Press Gallery during COVID, and since 2022 has been more involved with provincial reporting. She reports on national issues where there is a Vancouver Island impact.