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Plans for student housing at VIU in Nanaimo going to public hearing, amid low vacancy rate

A proposed 117-bed housing ­project for Vancouver Island University students is on its way to a public hearing in Nanaimo, as low rental vacancy rates make finding affordable housing difficult.
TC_396948_web_Student-housing-416-Wakesiah-Nanaimo.jpg
Artist’s rendering of student housing proposed for 416 Wakesiah St. in Nanaimo. Nanaimo’s rental vacancy rate slid to just one per cent in the fall of 2020, CMHC said in a February 2021 report. WA Architects

A proposed 117-bed housing ­project for Vancouver Island University students is on its way to a public hearing in Nanaimo, as low rental vacancy rates make finding affordable housing difficult.

Island West Coast Developments, on behalf of 1249818 BC Ltd., wants to increase the number of permitted beds in the development, which received approval for 44 beds in 2016. The developer has returned to city hall asking to boost the number of beds while keeping the total number of units at 44. The new application requires an amendment to a housing agreement signed with the city for 44 beds.

Council unanimously voted this week in favour of Coun. Erin Hemmens’ motions to send a revised housing bylaw for the project to public hearing.

The application comes as Nanaimo faces a housing crisis. Its rental vacancy rate slid to just one per cent in the fall of 2020, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in a February 2021 report.

Finding an affordable place to rent in the city is difficult for people on tight incomes, such as students.

Nanaimo isn’t alone. A sign at the entrance to the University of Victoria asks if anyone has a room to spare in their home.

The online rental website Zumper.com says the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Nanaimo is $1,400, up 12 per cent from the previous year.

The numbered company proposing the development is based in Burnaby, government records show. Haotian Li is its director.

Plans call for a four-storey development at the vacant lot at 416 Wakesiah Ave., across the street from the university.

Three commercial units are also planned in the building, along with underground parking, city staff told council.

“The applicant has proposed the increase in beds in order to develop a feasible student ­housing project in response to current student housing demand,” says a report from staff, which supports the ­housing bylaw amendment.

The developer is proposing to make a $22,000 contribution towards parks, recreation and cultural improvements in the university area.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com