Renters of Vancouver: “It’s definitely one strategy to get around the housing crisis”

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      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.

      “I live in an eight-bedroom collective house with three cats, a dog, and—as of next week—two chickens. There’s nowhere else I’d rather call home.

      “Our place is on Charles Street, and it’s very large, so we call it Charles Mansion. As well as the bedrooms, three kitchens, and five and a half bathrooms, there’s also a two-car garage and an enormous backyard.

      “We’re very focused on community, and it’s important to us to host events. Recently we’ve had a talent show, a backyard movie night, a clothing swap meet, a Sunday morning cartoon day with our projector, and an art-house movie evening. We try to do family dinners once a month, and it’s important to us that the people we pick to live in the house have the motivation to make things happen.

      “There’s a pretty strict interview process. Every time we put an ad for a room up we get between five and 30 responses, depending on the time of year, and we schedule meetings so as many people as possible can decide on who will be the next tenant. It’s not a forever home—people on average rent for about six months—and we don’t lock individuals into a specific length of time that they have to stay. We don’t want people to feel like they’re stuck, because if someone’s not happy with the living arrangements it can change the dynamic of the house, and it’s important to us to be very open and welcoming.

      “We get on really well with our landlord. It just happened that all three suites became available at the same time two years ago, so when we approached him about renting the home as a collective, he was into it. We do a lot of work on the property ourselves, and we check in with the landlord before starting any projects to see if he’d be willing to pay for the materials if we do the fitting. Most of the repairs are sorted by us, so it’s really low-maintenance for him. We’re very reliable tenants and we’ve never had any issues, even though we have people moving in and out regularly, and we have a lot of pets.

      “The house is made up of three individual leases, which is an important factor. There’s an old city bylaw that says that only five unrelated adults can live in the same home, so each part of the property is governed by a different lease. Technically there’s the main house, a one-bedroom basement suite and a two-bedroom basement unit. Because everything is connected through a central staircase, though, it allows us to view it all as one big house.

      “The best part about it is that we live in a really, really beautiful property. It’s infinitely more impressive than the one I grew up in. The house is only five years old, it has heated floors throughout, it has two fireplaces, the countertops are marble, and it’s absolutely huge. It’s got to be worth more than two million dollars, but our rent is between $500 and $650 per person. None of us would ever be able to afford to live in a place like this on our own, but together we have a mansion all to ourselves.

      “I definitely see living collectively as one strategy to get around the housing crisis that we’re in. There are so many properties built with four or more bedrooms, and very few families who are able to stay in Vancouver to rent those places. They all end up sitting vacant. Allowing four or more people in their twenties and thirties the chance to rent as a group frees up a lot of rooms in the city—and it becomes much more affordable to rent in Vancouver.”

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