“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“When I was 24, I was trying to decide whether to open a tea-room as a business, or to create a community space. I chose the latter, and took on the lease for a large house. The property was in East Van, at Knight and 31st. It was a six bedroom place, and I ran it for four and a half years.
There are so many advantages to living in a shared house. There were always others around to do activities with. Most of us were cyclists, so at any time someone would be like ‘Okay, let’s go down to the beach,’ and anywhere between one and five people would accompany them. Food was always a hub too. We didn’t have shared groceries, but if someone was cooking, we would all eat together and contribute. At one point we had a backyard plot where we invited a farmer to come in and grow 70 vegetables, and we all looked after his chickens.
Over the time I managed the house, I had 61 roommates. That might sound like a lot, but there actually wasn’t too much turnover. A number of people stayed for between one to three years, but because there were so many rooms, a lot of people ended up living there. As a house manager, I chose not to have contracts with people, because I wanted a home with good energy. I didn’t want to force anyone to stay, because I thought it was important that people elected to be there. If my roommates wanted to go to school in Australia, or to take up a totally different pursuit, so I just said go—live your life.
At times, though, I found it tough to find people to fill the house. The first year and half was hard. I’m an energy kind of person, so I really wanted to make sure that everyone got along and respected each other. It’s really difficult to find six people who truly gel, and have different habits that can work together and be compatible. In the first instance, we did a lot of Craigslisting and interviews to make sure people fit. But after a while, because our community grew so large, our house was completed through people we had already known or met. There was always a wait-list to live in our place. It was amazing. If we were looking for new people, we found them quickly through word of mouth.
We also had a bit of trouble with the landlord. That’s a whole other story. But while it was a frustrating process at times, when you look at the vibrancy that the house brought to everyone’s life for four and a half years, those little stories about things not working for a long time didn’t really matter. When there was a particular problem, we saw it as something quirky about the space. When our oven broke for a year, for example, we saw it as inspiration for what we could come up with creatively to overcome it as a community. When we had a big mice issue, we got a beautiful cat named Crunch who fixed it for us.
People talk about how hard it is to get a one-bedroom or two-bedroom suite. A collective house is a great alternative to that, especially in terms of affordability—but living in a community arrangement has a lot more value than just that. With roommates, you share space, you share the laundry—all those kinds of things. But we were focused on building friendships and loyalty to each other, and we actually all lived together, not separately in the same house.
If you’re the kind of person who is able to take on the responsibility, I would completely recommend it to you. If you’re having a problem renting smaller places in Vancouver, find a big house, start a collective, and fill it with amazing humans. It changed my life.”