Victoria’s mayor believes the housing crisis in her city has become so dire that bylaws ought to be changed to allow people to legally sleep inside vehicles parked on the street.

It’s an exemption she hopes to keep in place until her city’s vacancy rate -- the percentage of empty rental units on the market -- moves closer in line with the rest of Canada’s major cities.

Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillor Chris Coleman plan to pitch the idea to city council on Thursday.

“It’s not rocket science, people need a place to live and people who are working need to have a good sleep so they can go to work in the morning, keep their jobs, and eventually find housing,” Helps told CTV Vancouver Island on Sunday.

Victoria’s vacancy rate for purpose-build rental units is tied for the lowest in Canada at 0.5 per cent with the Abbotsford-Mission area on the British Columbia mainland, according to figures released by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) last November. The same report found the average across 34 of Canada’s larger urban centres is 3.4 per cent.

Helps wants to exempt two bylaws whenever Victoria’s vacancy rate rises is a three per cent or lower; one that prohibits a person from sleeping overnight in a vehicle parked in a street, and another that restricts people from parking a vehicle in a street for the purpose of sleeping overnight.

Under the proposal, those vehicles would not be allowed to park for the night until 7 p.m., and would have to move on before 7 a.m. the next morning.

Lawyer DJ Larkin with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver told CTV News Channel the change would go a long way to protect an already vulnerable segment of the population.

“These are largely people who are low-income workers, people who have been evicted from their housing on short notice, (and) people fleeing violence,” she said on Monday.

“It is in line with the human rights obligations of cities not to criminalize and punish people for doing what they find necessary to protect themselves when they are homeless, just as you shouldn’t be prohibiting somebody from sheltering in a park when they don’t have another option.”

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to prohibit someone from erecting temporary shelter in a park if there are no available shelter beds, a decision that was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2009.

It’s not just the vacancy rate that’s at the heart of the city’s housing problem. Victoria’s low income earners are also facing some of the highest rental costs in Canada. The average two-bedroom apartment in the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area costs $1,188 per month. That figures drops to $995 when averaged out across the country.

With no immediate remedies to the city’s housing woes in sight, Larkin feels it’s time to stop cracking down on the victims, many of whom feel safer in a locked vehicle than in a shelter bed or out on the street.

“It is not justifiable to ticket people or to punish them for engaging in actions that are absolutely necessary for human survival,” she said.

Meanwhile, police have been taking an increasing tough stance on individuals for so-called “night parking.”

A report prepared by Mayor Helps and Councillor Coleman found the number of tickets issued has more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. The document also includes several anonymous accounts of people who found themselves calling a vehicle home as a result of rising rent, unemployment, and violence.

“It’s going to be a long time before we see an end to this crisis,” said Larkin. “It’s happening in every city. I can guarantee it.”