Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Rental crisis in Victoria sees large community of people living out of vehicles at Esquimalt Lagoon


A makeshift community has formed at Esquimalt Lagoon due to challenges finding housing in the Greater Victoria area.

Samantha, who prefers her last name to remain anonymous, told Victoria Buzz that she began living in a rooftop tent over her Jeep after her landlord evicted her and her partner three months ago.

“We were renting a basement suite, and our landlord was going to rent it out to his brother who has health problems. He gave us two months, so we started looking for places,” Samantha said.

“We couldn’t find anything though. We spent every waking moment looking for something. We’ve used all the avenues. We have jobs.”

Samantha and her partner, Jai, have now been living near Esquimalt Lagoon for a month.

Among them are van-lifers—those who choose to live in a van.

But while there are people choosing to live there, there are those who feel like they have no choice but to live in a van.

“Every landlord says ‘your application is among at least a hundred other applicants,’” Samantha said.

“It’s hard enough to get someone to call you back; it’s even harder to actually get a place.”

Renters are falling through the cracks, and the 30-car community, Sam said, is brimming with full-time workers looking for full-time housing.

“Every night there’s around 30 cars staying here. It’s a little community. There’s even a BC government employee that lives out of his car,” said Samantha.

While the problem of finding a home is still present for Samantha and Jai, they also have to worry about fines.

Though, Colwood bylaw officers have been surprisingly sympathetic.

“One day I went to do laundry and there was a sticker with a warning notice about my car being parked overnight,” Samantha said.

“We often move our car so that doesn’t happen. Luckily I talked to bylaw, or the City of Colwood, and they said they likely wouldn’t tow us, they just wanted to receive a call from us so we could explain what was going on.”

At her wit’s end, Samantha made a post to a private Facebook group shedding light on the situation.

“My boyfriend works full time and I am also self employed,” the post said.

“We have money, just nowhere to rent. The government needs to put a cap on the rent prices or something because this is becoming a rapidly increasing problem that people need to be made aware of.”

Since posting on Facebook, Sam said she has received numerous offers for housing, but despite this short-term fix, the housing crisis still remains, and for those who don’t post to Facebook, the problem still persists.

Victoria Buzz met with Peter, whose name has been changed for anonymity.

Peter is a recently divorced father who has been living out of his Kia Sorento for the past month while he looks for a rental. He wears a sports jacket, has a well-groomed beard, and even owns a boat in West Bay Marina. For all intents and purposes, Peter looks presentable.

But finding a rental that suits his needs has been a painstaking process since according to the National Occupancy Standard (NOS), single parents need to have a separate bedroom for their child.

This is a challenge to Peter who cannot afford a two-bedroom home and does not qualify for government support and subsidies due to his salary which is close to $60,000 a year.

Without government or family support, Peter has found himself part of this community of people who are working full time and living out of their cars.

“I don’t consider what I do camping,” he said.

“I’m just temporarily living out of my car. I have a job and I want to rent, I just can’t find anything and I don’t qualify for any support.”

Now, Peter is looking to move, even as far as Ottawa, but risks losing his career and moving away from his daughter.

While the provincial government has recognized BC’s housing crisis by finding homes for people who have been unhoused, creating supportive housing, helping with rental assistance in the private market and fostering home ownership, there are still cases where people are falling through the cracks.

Meanwhile, tenancy advocacy group, Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) disagrees with Landlord BC on whether the issue comes down to vacancy control—which would reduce the ability of landlords to raise rent after a tenant moves out—or diversifying the housing supply and holding city councilors responsible.

For now, Peter isn’t sure what options there are for him, and with University going back to in-person and even students struggling to find places to rent, the Victoria housing crisis goes on with no end in sight.

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