B.C. pledges funds for major expansion of student housing at UVic

Premier John Horgan announced $123 million in funding Thursday for a major expansion of student housing at the University of Victoria, which will see the school increase its on-campus housing stock by 25 per cent.

Province will provide $123 million for construction of two new student residence buildings

Premier John Horgan, right, and UVic president Jamie Cassels pose for a photograph in front of a rendering of new residence buildings at the University of Victoria. (Submitted by the University of Victoria)

Premier John Horgan announced $123 million in funding Thursday for a major expansion of student housing at the University of Victoria that will see the school increase its on-campus housing stock by 25 per cent.

The $201-million plan includes the construction of two new student residences and knocking down some older housing facilities. In total, the project will create 628 additional student beds.

"Students have enough stress in their lives without having to worry about finding a place to live they can afford," Horgan told a crowd of about 200 gathered outside Cadboro Commons, a UVic dining hall.

"By increasing housing stock specifically for students, we're also taking the pressure off local rental markets, giving more options to other renters."

First building to open in 2022

Construction will begin in 2020 with the first building expected to open its doors two years later. The buildings will include dorm rooms along with a 600-seat dining hall and commercial and public spaces.

"We're really looking forward to this project," said Gayle Gorrilll, vice-president of finance and operations for the university.

"It's going to make a huge difference for our students, our community and it's going to make the university a better place to be," Gorrill told CBC's All Points West on Thursday.

Victoria has one of the lowest vacancy rate in the country, according to a 2017 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The same report showed that rents in Victoria increased by an average of 8.6 per cent from the previous year.

UVic president Jamie Cassels said 75 per cent of students at the university come from beyond the Greater Victoria area. Each year, he said, the university receives 1,000 or more housing applications than there are available beds.

Student society happy with plan

Ainsley Kerr, director of campaigns and community relations at the UVic Students' Society, said the new residences will help students trying to navigate Victoria's hot real estate market.

"I think it's amazing news," Kerr said. "That's 620 people that are going to have a more stable living situation."

Kerr said the society has been lobbying the province for years to allow the university to take on more debt to build new residences. She said she's learned from personal experience and from student society campaigns the challenges UVic students face finding affordable housing.

"I've talked to other students who have had experience living with black mould or no kitchen facilities or they've sort of  turned a living room area into an extra bedroom," Kerr said. 

Now, she just hopes the construction of the new residences won't be too disruptive to campus life.

Province will provide $123 million for construction of two new student residence buildings 7:24

With files from CBC's All Points West