“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I moved here five years ago, when I started school at UBC. My home country is China, and it was pretty much the first time I’d been abroad by myself. My landlords became family to me.
“Before coming here, I tried to find a place on the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that any of them were somewhere I would like to live without seeing them in person. I had been an exchange student for a short while in Vancouver, though, and I had a few friends that I knew were renting rooms in the same two-storey house. I asked them if I might be able to stay there as well.
“The landlords were a husband and wife. She was from China, and he was Canadian. They said I could stay on the couch for a week while I was looking around for places. I searched hard, but couldn’t find anything suitable. After that time was up, they just said that I could stay full-time, because the landlady would be back to Beijing in a few weeks and I could have her unit for a little bit. That’s how our relationship started.
“The couple’s backgrounds were really great for me, because coming from China and being so far away from my family meant that I was sometimes very homesick. They would very kindly occasionally make a meal for me, and help me to feel less lonely. My English level at the time wasn’t very good, but the landlord had conversations with me and helped me improve a lot of my spoken English. He told me about everything that was happening in the city and the community.
“They also taught me what Canadian life looks like. The landlord would take me to watch hockey games with him, and we ate pizza together and drank beer. I learned that this was a good combination. One of my hobbies is cooking, and he liked to share his homemade recipes with me. For pretty much the first year of my life in Vancouver, they really helped me to go through the toughest part of moving countries, which is settling in. They were like my aunty and uncle, because they made me feel much less homesick.
“Before I moved to Canada, I was on the waitlist for a dorm room at UBC. For my second year at school, I finally got a place on campus, and I moved away from the landlords. Even so, I still visit them regularly—at least once a month. They are very nice to me, and I’m very grateful that for the first year I had a place to stay with them. These days I have a job in Delta and it’s a long commute. I have less time to visit them, but I still go because I’m very thankful for the support that they gave me.
“Unfortunately, a few years ago the landlord was diagnosed with an illness. He’s not able to get around on his own anymore, and he needs someone to take care of him. Since then, I’ve been visiting them on a more regular basis. Even though he’s very sick and his condition is getting worse, every time we get together I can feel his positive energy, and he likes to check in with me. We talk about what’s happening in our lives. I’m very happy that we had a better relationship than just landlord and renter.
“The housing market in Vancouver is harsh. I see myself as very lucky to have had such a great place to live, as it's often very unaffordable to rent here, and demand is much higher than the supply. Vancouver is such a nice place. People like being here, and that’s a good thing. But we need to figure out better solutions as a society to accommodate everyone who lives and works here.”More