Renters of Vancouver: “This time next week, we’ll be living in a van”

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      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.

      "This time next week, we’ll be living in a van on Galiano Island.

      I found myself in a tough situation last year where I had to move out of my Vancouver apartment overnight. I needed to find a new place immediately, and that wasn’t easy.

      I marketed myself through Skype interviews to reach out to as many landlords as possible, and I sent a friend of mine to check out a basement suite and put in a good word.

      It’s an okay place, but the first time I’d set foot in the apartment was to move in. I took it out of desperation more than anything, plus in order to find a good roommate to fill it, I had to commit to paying a percentage of his rent, too.

      I spend about $950 a month to be here, and I’m happy to be leaving it for the van.

      My girlfriend also feels forced out by the market in Vancouver. She’s lucky enough to be living in a community house that’s fairly cheap, but working in a café just isn’t enough to cover costs for most people.

      It’s so hard to afford rent; it’s definitely a factor in why we’re getting away from this city and heading out on the road.

      We’ve bought a ’97 Dodge Ram—a kind of white cargo van. It doesn’t include a bathroom or an oven, but it does have running water, powered electricity, and an inverter that means the engine will charge a battery while you drive, so we can run appliances in the vehicle.

      We’re renting a little trailer on Galiano that we’re going to hook up to the van, and we’ll park on a farm where there are warm showers and a shared kitchen.

      It depends how much we’re driving around, but the lifestyle is very cheap. We have no bills—we’re just going to use the internet at cafes. The insurance is $175, and it’s $200 to rent the trailer. That’s it.

      We have to pay to buy the van, but that’s just trading a couple of months of rent in Vancouver to get somewhere where we’ll never need to pay rent again.

      I think a lot about the future, and about how most people in this city are living paycheck to paycheck. Yesterday, I walked into a store and said hello to the cashier. It was 11 p.m. and she told me that in eight hours, she had to start work at another shift.

      I asked her what she’s saving for by putting in so many hours. She said that she can’t save at all—she’s just trying to make rent. Having a lower-paid job in the city is about trying to survive.

      We’re using our van to live outside Vancouver, but I know a number of people who choose to make their home in vehicles right here in order to save money. Once you start becoming familiar with that lifestyle, you see them all over the city—people setting up their lives on the streets.

      To the common eye, it just looks like a van but when you know what you’re seeing, you can tell who’s settled there long-term. People drive to work in the morning and park elsewhere at night to sleep. It’s so difficult to find an apartment in the Vancouver market that living in a van has become a viable alternative.

      There’s an emotional element to our decision, too. We’re leaving this city because we feel that when we’re in Vancouver, we’re 'humans doing'. And when we’re outside of its confines, we’re 'human beings'.

      We like the nomadic lifestyle and can’t wait to build new skills and connections by getting out of our routines and having new experiences."

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