For the first time in her life, Saanich resident Sandra McMullen considered living in a van with her husband Conan O’Dell and their two young children.
Their landlord had decided to move into the unit and served them a notice to end tenancy last September. Since then, McMullen and O’Dell have been searching for a new two- or three-bedroom rental unit in Greater Victoria that will accommodate their budget of around $2,300 per month — to no success.
“I was extremely worried,” said McMullen, in the main-level rental suite they will be evicted from in less than a week.
“We are going to be homeless. As people who’ve worked and paid taxes our whole lives, I never thought we’d be in that position.”
O’Dell says it’s been impossible to find a new place with rental rates having soared the past year in the Capital region and hundreds of other renters vying for the same units.
“Checking Used Victoria, if there’s anything reasonably priced it’ll easily get over a thousand views in the first day,” said O’Dell. “If you’re not one of the first 10, [the landlords] won’t even call you back. There’s just too many.”
McMullen says she was shocked when she first realized they might be homeless, given O’Dell’s reliable work as a full-time arborist for the District of Central Saanich and her steady business making jewelry. The family makes just above the median income of a middle-class family in Saanich, says O’Dell.
The pair say they’ve disputed the eviction, citing their inability to find a new place to live, with a hearing on Feb. 10. If they lose, they’ll have to be out by Feb. 12.
Rental rates up by 15% in 1 year
According to a January 2022 report by Zumperwhich analyzed hundreds of thousands of rental listings across Canada, the average rate for a two-bedroom apartment in the Victoria region now sits at $2,300 — a 15 per cent jump from January 2021.
The region is now the third-most expensive rental market in Canada behind Vancouver and Toronto.
Housing needs assessment reports for both Saanich and Central Saanich show demand for rentals has increased across the Capital region but housing stock has failed to catch up.
The rental crisis has spurred McMullen and O’Dell to join a throng of residents in calling for the province and federal government to implement stricter measures on landlords, including vacancy control, which would restrict landlords from dramatically increasing rental rates between tenants.
According to a January 2021 report from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Commission, rental rates in Greater Victoria rose 3.3 per cent faster than inflation in the year before.
The average asking price had risen from $39 more between tenants in 2014 to $359 more in 2020.
‘My heart breaks’: Saanich Mayor
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told CBC his “heart breaks” for McMullen, O’Dell and their two kids, along with so many other families in their position, and cited a myriad of ways the district has been working to increase rental stock through bylaw changes and plans to build more purpose-built affordable rentals — though he said these will all take time.
That’s time O’Dell and McMullen say they don’t have.
“We’ve lived here for 20 years. Our families are here, our jobs are here … [Now] it feels hopeless,” said Mullen, adding that in desperation she called out for help on social media, even tempting possible landlords with free arborist services from her husband.
McMullen recounted a drawing her six-year-old daughter recently brought home from school: a picture of a house with a written plea for help to find “a home that is helpful for us.”
“It’s devastating,” said O’Dell. “We don’t want anyone’s kids to have to think about possibly being homeless.”