Recent Saanich and Oak Bay decisions could make housing more accessible for UVic students

Local News

Saanich recently legalized garden suites and Oak Bay is set to discuss the legalization of secondary suites

graphic of a house on wheels, secondary suite
Graphic by Paige Parker, Graphics Contributor

The struggle to find affordable, legal rental housing is familiar to many UVic students, but recent decisions in Saanich and Oak Bay may make it easier. The Saanich council recently wrapped up ongoing studies and surveys on garden suites, and voted to legalize them as part of a plan to increase housing in the municipality. Oak Bay is set to discuss the legalization of secondary suites, which would increase the availability and affordability of housing in the district. 

Greater Victoria is in the middle of a housing crisis, which limits housing and rental opportunities for UVic students. Both of these decisions have the potential to benefit UVic students in the search for affordable housing.

Saanich legalizes garden suites

In Saanich, the municipal council recently passed a motion that made garden suites legal. Garden suites are defined as “detached, ground-oriented dwellings located in the rear yard of a property with a single family house as its principal use.” Garden suites can only be used for long-term rentals. This decision increases the amount of long-term rentals in Saanich and will hopefully increase housing availability. As of Fall 2019, the vacancy rate in Victoria was 1.2 per cent.

The decision was made by council on Oct. 5. In an interview with the Martlet, councillor Ned Taylor said that the discussion of legalizing garden suites has been going on for much longer. 

“Legalizing garden suites was something that was in my election platform when I first ran for council, the 2017 Saanich council byelection, and around that time Saanich finally decided to begin exploring this new form of housing and a study was launched.”

Taylor cites the housing crisis in Greater Victoria and says that it informed the decision to legalize garden suites.

“We’re in a housing crisis right now so we need to be diversifying our housing market, we need to be finding new forms of housing,” Taylor said. “We need to be doing everything that we can to get new units into our housing market. We have not a lot of housing available for people and a lot of the housing that is available is out of reach for so many people.”

There was consistent community consultation throughout the process. From the studies and surveys, Taylor said he saw clear community support for this decision.  

Oak Bay to discuss legalizing secondary suites

In Oak Bay, the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) has begun lobbying council to legalize secondary suites and hopefully make the neighbourhood a more affordable place for students. 

According to some Oak Bay councillors, the council is set to discuss the legalization of secondary suites soon. Oak Bay defines secondary suites as “a self-contained dwelling unit within a single detached dwelling … [with] its own entrance, kitchen and bathroom.” Currently, Oak Bay only allows three unrelated tenants in one suite, which, when combined with the prohibition on secondary suites,  results in only three unrelated renters being able to live in an entire house. Legalizing secondary suites could increase housing opportunities for students.

UVSS Director of Campaigns and Community Relations Emily Lowan has been advocating for Oak Bay to legalize secondary suites. Lowan says Oak Bay housing is not currently affordable for students.  

“Basically, what I’ve been hearing from students is that they would like to live in Oak Bay, it has a great proximity to campus, but they’re simply priced out of the region,” said Lowan.

Vacancy rates are up in Oak Bay, but the cost of rent has risen in the past decade. From 2010 to 2018, average rent in Oak Bay increased 36 per cent. 

Lowan says she is unsure whether Oak Bay will legalize secondary housing due to the size of the council. 

“There are only six or seven councillors, and then the mayor, so there is still the potential for mixed voting.” 

Lowan remains hopeful, though, citing the election platform of Oak Bay’s mayor. This included addressing housing disparities in Oak Bay and creating more, and affordable, housing in the area.

“It seems mixed,” she says. “It is favourable that the mayor of Oak Bay, Kevin Murdoch, was actually elected on a platform of affordable housing. He promised to re-evaluate these bylaws, like secondary suites, and increase the overall supply of housing in Oak Bay.”

Because there are no concrete decisions yet, Lowan says it is important for the UVSS to be involved in advocacy for these changes. This advocacy is a part of the Rent with Rights Campaign, which lobbies different government officials on behalf of UVic students and works to educate students on their rights. The most recent success of this campaign occurred in June, when the UVSS lobbied the Saanich council to increase the limit on unrelated occupants in a residence from four to six. 

Oak Bay city councillors recommended the UVSS submit a letter of support for secondary suites in Oak Bay before the discussion occurs. The UVSS will continue to gather letters of support from UVic students and faculty, and Lowan plans to continue meeting with Oak Bay councillors to encourage them to support secondary suites.