British Columbia

Some students in Victoria are riding out the rental crisis by camping out full-time

The rental housing crunch on southern Vancouver Island has led to some unconventional living arrangements for some students in the area.

Some students forced to sleep in campers, tents full-time due to area's low vacancy rate, high rents

Third-year University of Victoria economics student Daniel Drury is pictured in his 1994 Ford Econoline van, which he converted into a camper. (Lauren Mills)

The rental housing crunch on southern Vancouver Island has led to unconventional living arrangements for some students in the area.

The Greater Victoria area's rental vacancy rate of roughly one per cent is a third of Canada's average, while average rents in the city jumped more than 20 per cent in the past six months, according to the National Rental Ranking released March 18.

It's led to drastic action for students like Daniel Drury, a third-year economics student at the University of Victoria, who bought a 1994 Ford Econoline van after he was unable to find accommodation last fall.

"I reached out to five different landlords or people looking for rooms to fill, and I didn't get any responses back," he told CBC News. "I gauged pretty quickly how challenging it was going to be to find accommodation.

"It wasn't that I couldn't afford it."

Drury says he parks his converted camper van off campus in Saanich overnight — as the university bans campus camping — and pays $75 a month for a daytime campus parking permit.

He says he hopes to sell the van for a profit when he's done living in it, seeing it more as an economic opportunity than a hardship.

He also says he cherishes his quiet early morning coffee, made using a propane stove.

The interior of economics student Daniel Drury's Ford Econoline, which he converted into a camper to sleep in off-campus while he attends the University of Victoria. He says he hopes to sell the van in the future. (Daniel Drury)

"It's obviously a steep learning curve initially, to learn to survive without the basic amenities of a basement suite," he said. "Once I got into the groove of it after a month, it's been pretty smooth."

But life is tougher for other students like Rob Bulmer, who has camped in a tent in various locations for more than a year so he can study at Camosun College.

He says he couldn't afford the current housing market, and that tenting life is not easy.

"Picking up mail can be difficult, people just asking, 'Where do you live?'" Bulmer said.

"You don't necessarily always want to have that conversation."

'It really says we've hit an all-time low'

Bulmer and Drury are not the only students opting for the camping life to study in the region.

Jalen Codrington, a writer at the University of Victoria student newspaper The Martlet, recently published an article about the pressures many students face finding a place to live.

He told CBC Radio he's heard of multiple students camping.

"If students can't afford to live anywhere while they're attending classes, it really says we've hit an all-time low," he said.

Camosun College student Rob Bulmer's tent, where he lives off-campus while attending class, is seen with his portable trailer in a residential area in Victoria. (Rob Bulmer)

University of Victoria spokesperson Denise Helm says the school knows the challenges students face "given the historical and ongoing low vacancy rate in Greater Victoria." 

The university has 2,100 residence beds, but most are reserved for first‐year students. It's building two new projects to house 621 students, the first due to open in September. 

"We know that demand for student-focused, affordable housing exceeds supply," she said. "We also know that the lack of affordable housing is a region-wide issue."

Helm says the university has worked with the District of Saanich — the municipality where both the University of Victoria and Camosun are located — on its new housing plan designed to achieve greater supply and affordability.

Local bylaws ban sleeping on streets overnight in vehicles or trailers. A spokesperson said the district "understands that many residents are struggling to find housing options that are affordable and suitable" and that the district is working on multiple projects aimed at improving housing availability within its boundaries.

A spokesperson for Camosun College, which has no on-campus housing, said the current market makes it tough for many students.

The college's Office of Student Support can help students facing hardship, Rodney Porter said, and its student society hosts an online database matching students with landlords or roommates. 

"Building student housing on campus is a priority for the college," he said, adding that the college has lobbied the province to fund housing on its Lansdowne campus.

B.C. is funding 5,000 new beds for students at 11 B.C. post-secondary schools. But a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for housing said the Victoria region "faces unique challenges" as one of Canada's "hottest" housing markets.

"Students need access to affordable on-campus housing so they can focus on their studies, not finances," the spokesperson said.

The City of Victoria has been contacted for comment, but has yet to do so.


Missy Johnson


Missy Johnson is a journalist living and working in Vancouver, B.C. You can reach her on Twitter @missyyjohnson.

With files from Emily Fagan