“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I lived in a number of places around the city after graduating from UBC. A few years later, a serious injury stopped me from doing anything with my music degree. I decided I needed to go back to school to retrain—and to make that happen, I had to move into a house with a lot of other roommates. It’s definitely an interesting place to call home.
Most of the people that live here all went to the same theological school. Even though I didn’t go to that university, I was friends with one of the roommates, so luckily he got me in. The rent is cheap—it’s about $750 for a room in a three-storey house in Point Grey, near the University Endowment Lands. I know I’m really fortunate to be living here. But I’ve also had to make a lot of compromises.
The house is governed by traditional values. In practice, that means that my roommates want it to be an all-guys space. You’re not allowed to have a significant other stay overnight unless you were to sleep in separate rooms, because they don’t want certain actions to occur in the house that would be against that code. I'm okay with that. There’s a strict no-drugs policy too, which I'm also fine with. From my point of view, I believe that an adult should be able to make their own decisions. But I understand that it’s how they like to live their life, and that’s cool. I adhere to the rules because it’s a great location to live, it’s affordable for me, and I respect my roommates.
That being said, my housing situation has ended one of my romantic relationships. It wasn’t super serious, but I liked her a lot. We were on our fourth or fifth date, and we were talking about our homes. I told her that I lived with a lot of other roommates, and she was a little put out that I didn’t have my own apartment. I was honest with her, and said that Vancouver was expensive, and that although I worked three jobs, I didn’t see myself being able to afford to rent or buy a spot on my own for a while.
We went on a few more dates after that, until we’d been going out for almost a month. And then she told me she didn’t think it was working out. When I asked her why, she said that she was looking for something specific—that she wanted to start a family soon, and that it was important to her to be with somebody that already had their own place. She was a really nice person, and I don’t hold any grudges against her, but it still stung a bit.
I work very hard and I’m doing the best that I can with my money. I know people that rent studio apartments and spend more than half their paychecks to live there, and I also know people that have had a big dental bill come up, and be thrown out of their apartment for not being able to pay rent. I don’t think that’s a productive way to exist.
Living in a big house means that I make some sacrifices too though. My room is right next to the kitchen, and adjacent to the laundry. There’s stairs up and down, and my bed is on the other side of the wall. Plus I’m right underneath the upstairs washroom, and directly on top of the downstairs washroom. So I hear when everyone takes a shower, does the laundry, comes in and out of the house, goes to the toilet, and walks up and down the stairs. It would be nice not to have to put up with that—especially because my first job of the day requires me to get up at 5am, and the noise often wakes me up through my earplugs. But I understand that's a sacrifice I have to make to be in such a nice area with this rent—and I like the people I live with too.
The problem with the housing market here is that Vancouver has a 0.6% rental vacancy rate. I worry that if I lost this place, it will be really difficult to find something else. I realise I’m very lucky to live where I live: it’s a super nice area and it’s really safe, and the landlords have been great to us. But the potential issue with having a lot of roommates is that if someone moves in and we don’t get along, it’s going to make either that person or myself feel like we’d have to go somewhere else. There’s always a lot of uncertainty.”
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