“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I had to move out of my house about a year after my roommate moved in with me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she kind of had a hoarding thing. Over the time that we were living together, it just got worse and worse, and our friendship deteriorated.
At one point, mice started living in some of the boxes of newspapers she kept—and even though we were starting to attract pests, she was really unwilling to move her stuff out. I knew that I had to leave. I had two options—I could move out and walk away, because she had a good relationship with the landlord, or I could kick her out and then deal with all the damage myself. I felt it was better for both of us if I left, and she stayed.
Our apartment was amazing. It was $1100, had two bedrooms and a huge living room, and was walking distance from the Drive. Even the basement had a view of the mountains, because it was at the top of a hill. It was a bit of a shock when I had to go.
I couldn’t find any new places that were in my price range. Even on the east side, it would cost $900 a month for a bachelor. I was doing academic research, which started out as an unpaid internship. Even though I did some great work, I couldn’t get any employment out of it, because no one would pay me after I had already done similar work for free. It’s tough being a young academic in Vancouver—you can get national notoriety for doing research, but you can’t get a paycheck.
I realized quite quickly that I’d have to be creative to figure something out, so I started talking to friends who lived in community houses. They didn’t have any spaces, and so I bought an old campervan.
I figured that if I was going to pursue that housing arrangement, I needed a kitchen and a bathroom. I moved out in front of my friends’ house at first, so I could run my laptop and electrics on an extension cord from the property. I was doing all my academic research in the van, which I nicknamed the Think Tank. When neighbours came by, I just told them that it was my office because it was really crowded in the house.
Eventually, the street started complaining, and a police officer stopped at the door. I said that the van was my workspace, and he was sympathetic and didn’t press me too hard. But he did tell me that parking enforcement would eventually come out and give me a warning, and a month later they did. I had to move my camper into the alley behind the house, which was public property, but it was on an uneven slope. I flattened a tire on one side to make it level, but it didn’t really work. That was super rough.
I lived in the van for a couple more months—and then when it started getting really cold in winter, I got sick and I just couldn’t stay there anymore.
I believe that we need intelligent young people who are willing to take risks and start new enterprises, and be inventive. For me, living in the van enabled me to do that. I was paying $125 to use the house’s kitchen and bathroom, and that allowed me to stretch what I could do without getting a salary for it. I believe in my work, and I believe in the projects I’m taking on, and I’d rather make an impact now than pursue something that pays me more money instead. I think it’ll be worth it in the long term—not just in terms of finances, but in terms of the social impact I want to have, which is why I’m doing any of this.
The van was actually a really good situation for me to have privacy, and to work on the things I wanted. It was good to be near my friends, and it was nice to know that while they didn’t have room for me in their house, they had room for me in their lives. And eventually my friends found another house down the street, and I moved in with them.
The new place is an awesome deal. It’s a five-bed house that’s been converted to a nine bedroom. My rent now is $325. It’s cheap, but I’m living in a workshop space right next to the furnace, with an unfinished wall between us. It’s pretty cold—I don’t get any of the heat, just the noise. In many ways it’s not too different from the van. Some of the guys are paying $600-700 for finished rooms with carpet, while I have hospital floors and concrete walls. But the space is what you make of it, and the situation suits me fine.
It’s really important for me to be in a community like this right now, where everyone is very career-focused. Each person in the house is working on being creative and pursuing their own projects, and we have things like a soup evening, where we invite people to come and eat with us as a collective. Vancouver needs a number of alternative housing solutions, and this seems to be a good one.”