It’s easy for a homeless person to lose touch with the true cost of living in Vancouver. For example, I don’t find the Fairview neighbourhood that expensive a place to live but that’s only because I don’t live in any of the apartment buildings (or in any of the other buildings in the area, for that matter).
And because I’m homeless, it came as news to me last week that my friend M, a retiree, who has lived in the same 1960s-era apartment building on West 14th Avenue for at least 30 years, counted himself extremely lucky to be paying a “mere” $850 a month in rent.
For all the binners out there, $850 is the deposit value of 17,000 pop cans, or 8,500 beer cans, or a mere 4,250 two-litre pop bottles. I further calculate that it also equals a little over three-quarters of a metric ton of 750 ml wine bottles!
But I digress.
M says that his modest rent is entirely due to his extremely long tenancy, which entitles him to annual rent increases of only two percent. By comparison, one of his next-door neighbours, who paid $1,100 a month, has recently moved out. His new next-door neighbour—a young musician (M declared, in obvious trepidation)—is paying $1,350 a month—a steep 22.7 percent rent increase!
The four tenants living on the 11th floor of M’s building are paying $2,400 a month, or $28,800 a year in rent.
That’s more money, by the way, than some 60 percent of single Canadians made in all of 2015, according to Maclean’s/Money Sense.
The range of rents in M’s building is probably par for the course in Fairview.
Boomers may be getting the last affordable rents in Fairview
Another retired resident that I spoke to the next day, who lives in an apartment building on West 12th Avenue, located within blocks of M’s building, told me that he likewise pays $850 in rent for the apartment that he’s lived in for close to 20 years. He said that other tenants with similarly placed suites in his building pay up to $1,100 a month. Also, all the corner apartments in his building rent for exactly $2,400 a month!
A third retired Fairview renter tells me that she pays $980 for her large one-bedroom apartment that she’s lived in for a very long time. Of course, she says, the more recent tenants are paying much more. Two-bedroom suites in her building rent for at least $1,700 a month.
The 60-someting woman tells me that the 70-something owner of her building is increasingly fond of telling all her tenants that she can have them out “like that” and charge the next tenants a lot more, to boot.
The deteriorating relationship with her landlord is beginning to really bother this woman but she loves the Fairview neighbourhood and she likes her apartment a lot. She also says that her landlord, while increasingly confrontational, is scrupulous about looking after the building.
Talking to these three retired baby boomers in the space of two days made me wonder about two things in particular.
What percentage of Fairview’s renters are long-term and near, or past, retirement age? Or, to borrow the terminology used to categorize, older, long-term homeless people, what percentage of renters in Fairview are chronic? I’m inclined to think the number is significant.
And I have to wonder if owners of Fairview’s 60- to 80-year-old apartment buildings can still afford to charge rents as low as $850, given the increasing need to fund costly suite upgrades and really major envelope repairs, as well as pay the ever-increasing property taxes.
I actually have to show some sympathy for the devil here. If I was the scrupulous-but-crabby 70-something owner of the 70-something apartment building that my retired woman friend lives in. The owner who, I’m told, insists that she would like to keep her aging building in the family and that she will absolutely not sell it to Chinese buyers. Well, I might be a little out of sorts as well if I was her. Especially seeing as how the realities of real estate in Vancouver would seem to be going counter to my expressed hopes and wishes.
Homeless people need to know their place in a neighbourhood
Of course, I’m neither a property owner nor a renter. I’m a homeless person who calls the Fairview neighbourhood home. Which is to say that my experience and perspective differs markedly from that of a resident, such as my friend M.
I live among the apartment buildings and beside them and occasionally even underneath them (in the event of heavy rain) but I do not often get to enter into them. That is a level of intimacy that the neighbourhood rarely grants me—and perhaps with good reason.
Beneath the bonhomie and civility with which Fairview residents generally interface with the area’s homeless people there is an understandable guarded quality. Showing basic respect for other human beings is one thing but Fairview residents are also mindful that homeless people are not always the greatest respecters, in their turn, of private property rights.
Until I became homeless I never felt justified (whether I did it or not) to trespass on private property. Homelessness, however, encouraged me (like it does all homeless people) to necessarily develop a more flexible and situational attitude toward property rights.
Looking in people’s garbage for things that can be converted into cash, sneaking water from an outdoor building faucet on a blistering hot day, or just trying to find a safe corner to curl up in and sleep—these are common homeless activities, with no criminal intent behind them whatsoever, which all require some amount of trespassing.
Fairview residents know all about this and, to an amazing degree, they tolerate the minor incursions onto their properties made by a steady stream of binners and Dumpster divers (homeless or otherwise)
stealing going through their back alleys night and day.
But if residents and building owners accept limited trespassing onto their properties, they draw a very hard line at the entrances into their properties.
On a handful of occasions that renters have press-ganged me into helping them haul discarded bookcases and other large home furnishings from the alley into their cramped Fairview apartments, they have almost always done it at night, when the least number of people are watching (especially the least number of building managers).
I actually know of two good-hearted Fairview renters who both made the mistake of inviting homeless people into their apartments. In return for their kindness, they were variously taken advantage of by the people they tried to help and, even worse, when their “indiscretion” became known to their building, both of them were evicted.
Getting back to my friend M. He reads my blog from time to time and particularly appreciates my attempts at photography. He has, therefore, for two years running, invited me to photograph the annual fireworks display in English Bay from the roof of his 11-storey apartment building.
Naturally, I have politely declined his offer. And if he makes it again this year, I will again demur.
It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy seeing and photographing the fireworks from such a lofty vantage point, it’s just that I wouldn’t want to get M in trouble with his landlord. I especially wouldn’t want to give his landlord an excuse to evict him from his uniquely affordable Fairview apartment—not for simply fraternizing with a homeless person.