Renters of Vancouver: “I couldn’t take that money away from his family”

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis. This feature, from the homeowner's perspective, is the first in a two-part series. The tenant's viewpoint follows next Saturday (March 24).

      “I own a two-bedroom apartment. I’m letting an international student—a friend of mine—live in the second room for free, because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to study.

      “I first met him when I had a job overseas. He was a brilliant, intelligent guy, and he was working as a translator. I found out from our conversations that he wanted to apply to go to school in Canada, and that he wanted to be a nurse or a midwife. I thought that was really cool. He’s from a third-world country, and he’s a Muslim male, so it’s not a typical choice in his culture.

      “He applied and got a place at a university in Vancouver. He had saved up the money to be able to attend, but when he took into account how much it costs to live in this city on top of the fees, he wasn’t able to do it. His salary in his home country was $300 a month, which is average for someone in the middle class. There was no way he’d be able to bank enough for rent and a damage deposit.

      “He emailed me to see if I could help. There was no way I could say no. This was the moment when the refugee crisis was happening, and Donald Trump was implementing a travel ban, and England was going through Brexit, and it felt like a chance to reject those ideas. I thought that he deserved the opportunity to go to school. I wanted to give him a chance.

      “He moved here at the end of 2016. He got himself a good-paying job alongside his schooling—all legally and above board—but all his wage goes towards savings, fees, and sending money to his family. He wires anything from $100 to $200 back home every month. The situation he was coming from was very hard. At one point, he sent his mom $230 to get a toilet and indoor plumbing, because she didn’t have either. His brother sent him photos because he was so astounded that they now had a shower with water that fell from above, and didn’t have to wash from a bucket from the well anymore. There was no way I could charge him $500 a month, and take that money away from his family.

      “He’s very hardworking. As well as his school and his job, he does a ton of cooking, and he tries to contribute to other things around the house too by repairing things that are broken and helping out with the cleaning. On top of that, he’ll take overtime shifts—sometimes ones that go all through the night. He still gets straight As.

      “I grew up in North Van. I had a nice white bread upbringing. My mom stayed home, my dad went to work. I had to pay for all my schooling, but I got to live at home rent free, and drive to UBC every day. I was given those opportunities. My mom always said that as long as I was in school full-time and got good grades, I could stay in their house. That’s what I’ve said to him.

      “He definitely feels like he can be a burden, especially because I could have a paying roommate. On top of that, he worries what will happen if he decides to stay after he’s finished at university. I’ve always said to him that I’ll never make him homeless. I’ve told him that the can stay until the end of his diploma, but he can’t live with me after that. But when he does leave, it will be in a supported way, and I’ll help him to look for an apartment.

      “I have acquaintances that think he should just pull himself up by his bootstraps. But there’s only so far you can go. He didn’t have anywhere to live, so he couldn’t go to the bank and get a loan. Even now he can’t get a student loan because he’s an international student, so he has to pay all his fees upfront. He didn’t have those options simply because he wasn’t born into a country like we were. At some point, you just have to give people some help.

      “There are people who say that immigrants are taking Canadian jobs and resources. I think that comes from the stereotype of rich immigrants. The majority are people who are hardworking and struggling to find a better life. I know many people who have come to Canada who are doctors in their home country, and here they’re working as cleaners or taxi drivers. Most immigrants are not rich people buying up McMansions. They are coming to our country to provide services—services which we need—and they’re being pushed out by the housing crisis.”

      Got a story to share? Tweet Kate Wilson here, or email