Saanich council increases occupancy limit, allowing six roommates

Up to six roommates will now be allowed to share a house in Saanich, B.C., on south Vancouver Island, a bylaw change some say is a win for students and low-income earners.

Since 1993, a zoning bylaw dictated that a maximum of four non-related people could share one house at a time. After a public hearing on Saturday, District of Saanich council voted to increase that limit to six people.

Emily Lowan, a student at the University of Victoria, said the move increases housing options and affordability in Saanich.

“It just means that the people who are currently living with the looming fear of eviction on a daily basis will not have to worry about that,” she said.

“This is just one incremental change to improving our housing supply and our housing crisis.”

The average costs of a one-bedroom apartment in Saanich is $1,500, while the average student salary in Victoria is around $15 an hour, Lowan said. Allowing six unrelated people to live together creates more affordable options for students and low-income earners, she said.

Last summer, seven roommates in Victoria called for the bylaw to be updated after they were evicted from their seven-bedroom house and left to search for new places to live in a market with a rental vacancy of 1.6 per cent.

Lowan said this was a prime example of why the bylaw needed to be amended. 

“It wasn’t about trash. It wasn’t about noise. They were respectful tenants, but there were seven of them living in a home because that’s the only affordable option they had,” she said.

“That’s just the reality of the housing market in Saanich for many students. It’s not for a lack of effort or for lack of trying to find affordable legal accommodation.”

Coun. Zac de Vries previously said the bylaw was too restrictive and said it should be scaled to the number of legal bedrooms in a house.

On Saturday, dozens of residents spoke during the virtual hearing, some voicing concerns that increased occupancy could lead to more problems with parking, garbage and noise. 

After gathering public input on the bylaw over the past year and a half, de Vries said he believes increasing occupancy will benefit those who rent by creating more rental options and lower rent.  

“They are now no longer having to worry about whether or not they would be reported to Saanich bylaw and evicted,” he said.

“I think this is a big win for the mental health and financial health of many students.”



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