“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I have four kids. When we first moved to Vancouver, my youngest was four months old, and the oldest was five—just before kindergarten. We knew it would be tough, but we thought that the best neighbourhood to bring up our family would be the West End.
“We’ve lasted seven years. Now, we’re facing eviction.
“We love the community here. It’s like a town tucked away in a big city. We know everyone, and we’re very involved with a lot of things. I’m a coach for the community hockey organization, we volunteer at the kids’ elementary school, and we help out at the neighbourhood house. Because it’s traffic-calmed and population-dense, everybody walks everywhere, and everyone shares the space. On a warm afternoon, if we take our kids to the Lord Roberts Elementary playground, we’ll see literally hundreds of people from our neighbourhood. It’s our home.
“When we first arrived, we squeezed all six of us into a two-bedroom. We went minimalist, and just got rid of everything. Luckily, the kids were small. We put the three girls in this tiny bedroom, with two loft beds and a crib. My son was two at the time, so we fit him in the closet, and then my wife and I were in the main room. We did that for six months, and then a large, nine-bedroom heritage home became available.
“The rent on the big house was insane, but the landlord let us sub-let out every square inch of the place to homestay students. It was crowded—there were often 12 of us there—but we made it work. My wife cooked and cleaned for everybody, which was a big job, but we thought our family would be set forever. Then four years later, the landlord decided to move back, and we were evicted.
“We thought that our hopes of bringing up our children in the neighbourhood would be over because of skyrocketing rental prices, but then a three-bedroom became available just at the right time. It was $500 more than we had budgeted, but it would only take another part-time job and to save wherever we could, and our dream to stay downtown could continue.
“We didn’t think we’d get the place. There was already a stack of applicants when we arrived for the only showing. We loved the space, but we were worried: children are often considered a liability when attempting to rent places in downtown Vancouver, and we had four of them running all over the apartment, yelling and cheering as we talked with the property manager.
“This time having children worked in our favour. The manager saw joy and excitement on our kids’ faces as they realized the exceedingly rare possibility of them having a backyard. He became convinced that the space should belong to a family, and we got the apartment.
“The place has been wonderful. It’s on the ground level, so the kids can go straight outside to play. I was able to bring my mom to the same building too. She lives on the 12th floor, and it’s great for our children to have grandma upstairs. I also work from home, but our apartment doesn’t have enough room for an office, so I use some space at my mom’s house.
“We finally found our home, and we were set to be here for life. Because the owner was an offshore investor who’d had the place since 1987, we figured they’d just sit on the property forever, and we could continue to rent it. And then—boom. They put it on the market, and it sold within hours.
“We’re expecting a written eviction notice from the new owners soon. We’ll have until the end of March to find somewhere. It’s difficult, because prices have gone up for the three years that we’ve been away from the market. We’ve cobbled together $3200 for this place—that’s what we’re paying now—but that’s the top of our capacity. Anything that’s over 1200 square feet downtown is now around $4000, at the minimum. Then it launches up to $10,000, $12,000 or $15,000 a month.
“The real kicker is that in our own building there are two huge three-bedroom units, just sitting vacant. They’ve been empty for years because their offshore owners don’t need the income. I know the empty homes tax is meant to fix that, but in my experience it’s not helping. People are working around it by getting strata councils to say that their building no longer permits rentals, and that they therefore aren’t subject to the tax. That means there can’t be any tenants in that block at all.
“We’re desperate. We’re looking for whatever we can. I told the kids that we might have to go minimalist again. But it’s harder, because I have a 12-year-old now, an 11-year-old, and an eight and nine year-old. We’re looking at maybe getting a one bedroom and a bachelor side-by-side—that would be far from ideal, but we’d consider it. If there’s a big two-bedroom with a den, maybe we could do that. Just anything.
“We don’t want to have to leave our community, and our kids’ schools. We’re just hoping someone out there can help us.”