By Kimberly Arnold
Three years ago, my family and I were looking for a new place to live. My husband had been offered a new employment opportunity in downtown Vancouver, and we had just welcomed our first son. I had recently started maternity leave, and despite our finances and the dismal state of the Vancouver housing market, we did have certain criteria. Like many young families, we wanted a two-bedroom space, with decent square footage, located in a safe area. My husband was hoping for a short commute to work, preferably on his bike. Most importantly, we didn't want to throw a majority of our income at a landlord for a substandard apartment, and we already knew we didn't have the savings to sink our teeth into a Vancouver mortgage of any size.
The concept of alternate forms of housing has always piqued my interest. In the past, the Vancouver housing market has motivated me to be flexible, if nothing else. In the spectrum of rental options, I have rented higher-end apartments in Shaughnessy, and Gastown, and shared lower-end apartments in East Vancouver. I once tried out a summer traveling in my VW van. At one point, I had the opportunity to live on a sailboat in Point Roberts for a few months, which was my first taste of liveaboard life. The common trend I have seen in all my experiences as a renter in Vancouver is the steady decrease in option, and the rocketing increase in price. The phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ is becoming increasingly untrue here in Vancouver—I have viewed one or two budget rentals in the Vancouver area that could have been appropriate for a slasher flick set.
Overall, I have been lucky. I can say I have enjoyed my housing choices on my own terms regardless of how creative things got. When I met my future husband, he was like-minded. The first night we met, our conversation touched on liveaboard boats. He began contemplating the idea of living aboard years before when looking for a home in Vancouver. He owned a dog, and finding a rental apartment that would accommodate them both, even back then, was an uphill battle. His thoughts were leading increasingly towards the water. I loved the idea ever since the sailboat experience in Point Roberts. When the opportunity came, we gladly stepped away from searching through competitive, overpriced rental options and started to seriously focus on our dream of living on our own sailboat.
We currently wake up on the waterfront in the heart of Vancouver with a million-dollar view and our own sailboat. Through a family connection, we learned of a liveaboard co-op marina in False Creek. It was formed in the late ’70s and has been running successfully ever since. Through word of mouth, luck, timing and persistence we managed to become members. For us, liveaboard life at a decent marina is a positive experience in its own right, and we feel incredibly lucky to be members of Canada's only liveaboard co-op marina. As shareholders, we benefit from affordable housing as well as amenities usually only found in higher priced strata complexes.
Our monthly moorage fees, including internet, cable, water, and power total less than the rent a lot of Vancouverites are paying for a single room in a shared house. The marina has all the amenities that many land dwellers have and more—secure heated underground parking, laundry, showers and sauna, access to a woodworking shop, and a large communal lounge with a kitchen and media center which is perfect for hosting family and friends. The marina is a true co-op and a close knit, environmentally conscious community with a diverse crowd living aboard. There are novice boaters (like my husband and I) and experienced mariners. Ages run from seven months to 80-plus years. Members try to bring their individual expertise to the running of the marina and there are always a variety of marina socials, and holiday celebrations happening throughout the year.
After securing membership, we searched for almost a year to find the right boat. My husband is 6'3” and we needed high ceilings and enough living space so we wouldn’t feel like we were living on top of each other. We scoured the Pacific Northwest and finally found a spacious 45-foot Cooper sailboat with two staterooms and enough space to comfortably house our expanding family.
We welcomed our second son seven months ago and we are currently building our sailing skills while exploring the west coast of BC on weekends and holidays. We had an epic adventure sailing to Desolation Sound with the kids this summer, and our future plans include getting away, and out on the water whenever we can. Liveaboard life may not be for everyone, though I can say with certainty that most families who haven't even considered it to be an option would be amazed at how great it is.
If Metro Vancouver wants to truly become a global model for housing affordability, as voiced by Mayor Kennedy Stewart recently in the Vancouver Sun, then I strongly urge him to look at the success and affordability of the co-op where we are lucky to live. The city needs to continue to support the existence of current co-ops such as ours, while expanding and investing in the infrastructure necessary to create similar opportunities for Metro Vancouver and surrounding areas.