Leadership at the University of Victoria is eager to move beyond the current housing crisis for students, faculty, staff, and the larger community. With many University of Victoria students, faculty, and staff commuting up to 60 minutes by bus or bike, the academic institution continues to seek out creative solutions and partnerships with the larger community, which is also grappling with the lack of housing.
This was the message from Jim Dunsdon, Associate Vice President, Student Affairs, at the University of Victoria, and Kevin Hall, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Victoria who participated in the SHURE Initiative interview with Derek Newby, Principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects.
Diamond Schmitt Architects is a Canadian architectural firm founded in 1975 with headquarters in Toronto. The firm has become more active in university planning and student accommodation projects in recent years.
“We probably have the largest biking community in Canada in terms of people to come to a campus on their bikes,” said Dunsdon.
According to Kevin Hall, the University of Victoria has several pieces of outlying land that are very valuable but have never been considered for development because real estate is not considered a core mission. “People believe the academic pursuits of a university can’t include commercializing the assets that we own, and this is a big obstacle that we still have to overcome as we look towards using our land as a solution to the housing crisis in Victoria,” said Hall. “Housing is a major and a prime issue.”
Hall said his University aims to become a solution to the problem and create new housing product for people who live and work in Victoria. The average rental rate in Victoria for a one-bedroom apartment is currently $2,000 CAD per month. The vacancy rate is around 1%.
The housing crunch is causing haphazard operations on campus, according to Dunsdon, who described it as a ‘huge crisis’ that has negatively impacted every part of the University operation from recruitment of academic staff to kitchen workers and grounds maintenance. “Sadly, we find students living in tents and campers across some of the areas of Victoria, much like there are members of the public [doing the same],” Dundson told the audience at SHURE Vancouver.
Kevin Hall seeks to improve the housing situation for the overall community in Victoria, not just those in the university sphere. “One of the things we want to truly do as a university is be part of the solution to the housing problem, not just for our students, staff, and faculty, but also for the community – and we can house more of [all of them] closer to our campus,” said Hall.
The issues of housing affordability and housing access are incredibly significant, according to Dunsdson. “Housing needs to be done within this much broader context of many municipalities, all who want to grow, but all who have housing is probably their number one limiter, so it’s a significant opportunity and a significant challenge.”
To help alleviate the housing crisis, the University of Victoria has been partnering with student associations and local municipalities to move students from the broader community onto the university campus. The University of Victoria recently developed one of its most significant housing projects on-campus with rental accommodation available to both students and the general public.
“And so, we’re incredibly excited about our ability to expand on-campus housing,” said Dunsdon. “There’s an incredible opportunity on the U-Vic campus to continue to do that work that broadens our approach to include housing beyond just for students and just for families.”
To get more of the university on board with innovative real estate solutions, the revenue from real estate must go back to the university’s core mission – academics. “Making sure we put it back into the academic endeavors of the university, and I think that’s what we have to do is get the trust of the academic community that this is what the purpose is, is to take care of the housing crisis, but to drive research, to drive academic experience and student experience,” said Hall.
President Hall suggests potential new development serve as a living lab for research and due diligence, with all aspects of new projects analyzed, including the actual building design to the way UVic manages water and how it looks at transportation systems. “Access to the way we can have students engaged in this process of design and monitoring in the future has to be a critical part,” said Hall.