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$201M project to add 620 campus housing units at UVic

The major housing initiative that University of Victoria has been planning for several years got provincial approval Thursday.
VICTORIA, B.C.: NOVEMBER 15, 2018 -BC Premier John Horgan and Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training Melanie Mark, far right, with UVic students at a student housing project announcement in Victoria, B.C. November 15, 2018. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST). For City story by Les Leyne.

The major housing initiative that University of Victoria has been planning for several years got provincial approval Thursday.

Work is expected to start in 2020 on a series of projects that will make for a net increase of 620 on-campus units, increasing UVic’s residence capacity by 25 per cent. A new dining hall and multipurpose space are included in the work.

Total cost is estimated at $201 million, with a completion target of 2024.

Premier John Horgan announced the provincial approval at UVic, accompanied by several cabinet ministers and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.

The Cadboro Commons block and two nearby older residences — Margaret Newton Hall and Emily Carr Residences — will be demolished, replaced by two bigger, taller buildings.

“By increasing housing stock specifically for students, we’re also taking the pressure off local rental markets, giving more options to other renters,” Horgan said.

He said students have enough stress without worrying about where they’re going to live.

UVic president Jamie Cassels said the university deeply appreciates the provincial support, and it’s an investment in the citizens and the future of B.C.

UVic is a destination university, in that 75 per cent of the 22,000-member student body comes from outside the south Island. They arrive in a city with a difficult housing situation, he said. “It’s very challenging to find a place to live.”

Residence life is an integral part of the university experience, and the project will make it available to more people, he said.

UVic gets about 1,000 more applications a year than there are beds (2,300), although first-year students are guaranteed residence spots if they apply in time.

Student leader Adri Bell, who has lived in residence for three years, said the buildings become families and are real homes, to the point where students hug the buildings when they leave.

Weaver, a veteran UVic professor, said there has been a desperate need for more university housing for years. It’s been seven years since UVic last built on-campus residences.

The construction will free up rental units around Greater Victoria, he said, as students are competing with everyone else for scarce apartments.

There will be 782 new beds, of which 162 are replacing existing units that will be demolished. The buildings will meet passive-house standards for energy efficiency.

The news brings to 1,165 the number of new residence units at B.C. universities announced in the past year, a huge increase over previous years.

They’re all flowing from a $450-million student-housing loan program created this year.

B.C. is lending $98 million from that fund, and granting $25 million from a capital budget. The University of Victoria Foundation is providing $45 million and the university will provide the remaining $33 million.

The loan program was created in the 2018 budget as a way around the restrictions on post-secondary institutions’ borrowing ability. It’s limited, because their debt is carried on the province’s books.

UVic is the third institution to get a loan.

The project needs height and parking variances from Saanich to proceed.

Note to readers: This story has been corrected. A previous version erroneously said the Victoria Foundation was providing $45 million; in fact, the money is coming from the University of Victoria Foundation.