Students at South Island colleges and universities say the region’s rental crisis is forcing them to take drastic measures to find alternative housing.

With the city’s rental vacancy rate dipping to 0.5 per cent in the last year, some students are travelling further to find affordable accommodations, while others are living out of their vehicles – or just dropping out all together.

“There were three of us in a basement suite, and I arrived last so I had the worst room which happened to be an illegal room with no windows, with heat that didn’t work,” said University of Victoria student Sonia Hrynchyshyn.

She said she was paying $600 a month for that room, which was about 40 minutes from campus.

“I had been trying to put up with it for the whole year and ended up sleeping on my friend’s couch for a good portion of it,” she said.

Fed up with the city’s unaffordable housing, Hrynchyshyn penned a letter for campus newspaper The Martlet voicing her frustration.

Her column details the reasons why instead of coming back for her third year, she’ll be taking a break from post-secondary education.

“How am I supposed to concentrate on deadlines and grades when I’m trying to figure out my tenant rights and go to dispute resolution with my landlords during finals season every year?” she wrote. “And between all of this, I’m still trying to feed myself, find part-time jobs, and be a functioning human.”

The editor of the Martlet says there has been a huge response to Hrynchyshyn’s letter from students who are struggling with paying for an education and housing.

“The biggest issue facing students right now is just finding a place to live so that they can come to this campus,” said Cormack O’Brien. “People are talking about how they have to take part-time classes or how they have to be funded by their parents or how they just can’t afford to go to university at all.”

Others, like Camosun College student Nick Ketteringham, have found alternative ways of living – like the back of a car.

The 22-year-old engineering student said it wasn’t a difficult decision to set up a makeshift suite in his vehicle, because his student loans couldn’t cover the cost of his rent.

“Rent was definitely unaffordable for what I got,” he said. “You basically had to choose between paying still a high cost for a really bad place, or you would pay a huge amount for a nice place, and I just couldn’t do it because I’m a full-time student.”

Ketteringham says the money he’s saving on rent is going to things like tuition, insurance, phone bills and food costs, which have risen because of his lack of access to a kitchen.

“Affordable housing would be nice but that’s a tough one to find. You can find affordable housing in Victoria, you just have to move really far away,” he said.

For Hrynchyshyn, it could be the end of the road at UVic.

She’s decided before she continues her degree at the university she loves, she needs a break – and a room with windows.

“I want to finish my degree and I want to get out there into the world and start my career, but you have to put your mental health first sometimes, and it’s ridiculous that this is the reason I’m not coming back,” she said.

Part one of a two-part series: Tuesday, CTV’s Louise Hartland takes a look at possible solutions to the growing housing crisis.