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Victoria housing crisis creates social divide for post-secondary students

On-campus and off-campus living has created a social divide, some students say
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The first of the student housing buildings opened in the spring 2022, and the second building opened in early 2023. (Black Press Media file photo)

The 2023 housing crisis has hit university students in ways that go beyond just the financial.

Some University of Victoria students say housing affordability has created a social divide between students who can afford city living as opposed to being tethered to campus.

According to a report by the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group, rent prices in the proximity of major college cities are growing at a rate faster than inflation. In addition, B.C. students are paying some of the highest tuition costs in the country.

Finding housing in Victoria is extremely difficult due to high rent, lack of housing inventory, high competition, plus illegal and discriminatory practises by property owners and managers, according to the report.

UVic student Paloma Shah arrived on campus in January to study psychology and minor in business. She says living on campus has social benefits because events and classes are close, but that it can be isolating.

“This is especially true for first-year students,” Shah said. “The best option for first-year students is to live on campus so that it can be easier for them to adjust to the new environment of university. I have a lot of friends who have been living off campus since the start and they all say they haven’t experienced the ‘college life’ yet apart from all the studying.”

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As an international student from Thailand, she added that she enjoys living on campus, but it doesn’t allow the same liberties as living in the city.

“Having your whole life on campus and not exploring the city as much as you would have if living off campus, and not having certain needs being met such as dietary restrictions. It can get very disturbing in terms of the loud noises on the weekends and it can be difficult if one is studying,” said Shah.

According to the report, “the majority of students are living well below the poverty line, and many use their income to pay for housing costs which can have a negative impact on students’ finances, mental health, and diet.”

In terms of physical health, Shah said the meal plan on campus did not sit well for her, making life on campus a bit more uncomfortable.

“I fell sick quite often and this can also be because of the weather change from living in Thailand and now shifting to Canada. However, the meal plan is not ideal for certain dietary restrictions such as vegetarians,” said Shah.

Former UVicstudent Joe Mauro said his rent went up after he lived farther away from the university campus.

“I lived by the ‘uni’ for my first few years at UVic because I wanted to be more in the city, and when I moved my rent went up. The university is disaggregated from the city, so if you want to be in the city, you have to commute, which is hard because transit is limited. I could be mistaken, but that was my experience,” said Mauro.

Originally from Kamloops, Mauro went to UVic in 2017 and left in 2023.

There is an array of contributing factors when it comes to unaffordable housing and schooling. Tuition fees by level and field of study can differ depending on what a student is studying. For example, this year Canadian graduate students will pay the highest tuition fees for an executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) compared to regular MBA programs.

According to the report Tuition and Living Accommodation Costs, Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia graduate students pay the highest tuition fees, and B.C. graduate students will pay 26.2 per cent above the average.