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Vacancy Rate Among Lowest In Country
by Rebecca Aldous

As printed in the "Oak Bay News" - Friday, January 4, 2008

Kyle Pinner needs a place to live.

As a new renter and with Victoria's apartment rates a .5 per cent, Pinner realizes he might be looking for a long time.

His student budget is also a squeeze in the already tight market.

"Five-hundred dollars for a bachelor suite might sound good, but that's still $6,000 a year for someone who's not working," said Pinner.

Michael Walsh's situation is slightly different.

After renting an apartment in James Bay, he is hunting for a house with a garden. Walsh has been searching for a month and aims to move by March.

"What I do notice is the prices are very high. It is getting a bit crazy and I think a lot of people know it and are basically charging whatever they want. I get it, but I am not happy about it," Walsh said.

For the fourth consecutive year, Greater Victoria has among the lowest vacancy rates for all major Canadian centres, while rent increases averaged five per cent. Kelowna is the only centre with a lower rate, said Peggy Prill, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation market analyst.

"Victoria's strong rental demand is based on more people moving to the area, spurred by strong job growth and low unemployment levels. Demand for both ownership and rental housing was robust in 2007," she said. Martha Lewis, Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre's executive director, doesn't view Victoria's position as being quite so rosy.

High construction costs and tax treatments have slammed the brakes on rental property development. The average monthly rent for a two bedroom apartment in Victoria is approximately $1,000.

"The rent increases are going up faster than average incomes are going up," said Lewis. "While landlords say, 'Well it is not worth that much, it is only five per cent,' people aren't getting five per cent salary increases. We are widening the gap between property rich and property poor."

Municipalities can make a difference. Allowing secondary suites is key, Lewis said. High-density zoning is another tool to combat low apartment vacancy rates.

Victoria passed a bylaw to allow secondary suites last April. Central Saanich, Metchosin and Langford have legalized secondary suites. Saanich and Oak Bay deal with individual cases on a complaint-driven basis.

Esquimalt, with a .8 per cent vacancy rate, doesn't allow secondary suites but discussion to do so is in progress.

Esquimalt Coun. Jane Sterk supports legalizing such units, as long as the home is owner-occupied.

"I think (a secondary suite policy) will allow us to have an opportunity to make sure the quality of additional accommodation is up to some sort of acceptable standard," Sterk said.

The broader problem needs to be addressed by the provincial and federal government, she said.

Unlike its G8 counterparts, Canada is the only country without a national housing policy.

Over the last 25 years, no dedicated rental developments have been built in Greater Victoria.

"There used to be federal and provincial programs that supported those kind of developments. I think without some sort of federal or provincial programs we are not going to see a change," Sterk said. "I think that is a growing concern in terms of housing affordability."

-----------Apartment Vacancy Rates--------------
--------------------Bachelor-----1 Bdr.-----2 Bdr.
City of Victoria:----8%---------.6%-------.3%
Oak Bay:-----------0%----------.5%-------0%