“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I’ve lived in Vancouver for 25 years, and had a wonderful apartment on Main Street for 14 of them. Three years ago, I left to help my aging mother, who lives near Abbotsford. Now I’m trying to move back to the city, but I can’t find a place to live.
“I’ve visited so many rooms, and most of them are barely habitable.
“The first place I saw was advertised as the upstairs of a laneway home. It sounded like it might be a little small, but I wanted to check it out. The contact on Craigslist gave me a house number, and I pulled up in my car to the front door, and gave him a call. He then came out of a different house, three doors down—so he obviously owned more than one property on the street.
“He then took me around the back, and I saw the laneway home. It was literally a garage that been renovated. When he opened the door, there were stairs going down, and stairs going up. Downstairs it looked like there were four bedrooms within about a 600 square foot space. In the centre—which was the communal area—there was a microwave, small mini-fridge, and a table. Upstairs there were three more bedrooms side-by-side, and one bathroom for everyone to use. It was $750 a month.
“That was only the beginning. The next place I saw had some really nice pictures, and the ad said that the landlord was only looking for one roommate. I went to the address, and met her. She walked me through the house, and on the tour we passed through the kitchen. It was filthy. Someone had been making bread and had just thrown the flour all over the floor. There was food that hadn’t been managed for days that was rotting on the counter. When she opened the fridge, it was full of rotting vegetables.
“Then she walked me upstairs. I didn’t want to touch anything because it was so dirty. There was a lot of slimy mould growing inside the house, and there was a sun room with black mould in the carpet. There were seven bedrooms in the house, and one bathroom. She showed me round a room that just about fit a bed and dresser. It was too small to live in.
“The worst was two weeks ago. I saw an ad for a $650 basement suite, near Metrotown. It was right across from a park, so I got really excited. I rang the bell, and a woman opened the door. The first thing I saw was a kid on the couch—I would have put his age at 16 or 17. She said he lived there. There was barely anything in the lounge—just the couch. In the kitchen there was a box of tetrapak juice and dried noodles piled up. The woman said that his mom lived abroad, and that she came every two months to stay for a week or so, and then she went back. She said it would just be me and him in the property. When I asked who looked after him, she said that she comes by from time to time, but that he was fine by himself. She said that I would pay him the rent money.
“Then we went downstairs to the basement, and I saw the room. It had been divided in half by a sliding door-wall made out of press board. There weren’t any handles or locks on it. When you entered what would have been my bedroom, it was about 350 square feet.
“Three years ago when I’d casually look at rental prices, you could still find a bachelor suite for $700. Back then, even if you were paying $500 or $600 for a room, it was fairly big, and there were only two or three people in that space. You can’t get that now. People are just stuffed together in these rat boxes.
“I want to think we had better standards in Vancouver. It’s a problem when beautiful condos are split up into seven spaces with press board—at the very least, it’s really unhygienic. I think there needs to be a crackdown, or something really bad is going to happen.”More