"Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“For a long time I had an apartment on Commercial Drive that I shared with one roommate. It was a third-floor walk-up, very large, and only $850 a month. When my roommate moved out, the landlord said that I actually was subletting against the lease, which wasn’t true. When I came home one day, they had hired movers to put all my stuff in storage, and changed the locks. I took my case to the Residential Tenancy Branch and won, but I couldn’t get my apartment back. It took six months to get through the tribunal, and by that time they had repainted the apartment, upped the rent to $1300, and moved someone else in. It was a sneak renoviction.
Luckily I was renting a studio for my art, and after I was evicted, I was able to move into that space. Back in 1986, 339 Railway challenged the city bylaws so that parts of Chinatown and downtown’s industrial district will permit artists to live in their studios—provided that more than 10 per cent of the square footage isn’t modified for living purposes. Because it’s a commercial tenancy, though, it’s not covered under the Residential Tenancy Act. I lived there for five years, but they were able to evict me without much notice. There were 30 people that lost their work space, and a number lost their homes.
Next I went to a few house showings I found on Craigslist. A number of them told me that the viewings were cancelled because they’ve had too many applications, and the few I did see were packed with people climbing over each other to fill out forms. There were at least a dozen people in line for each one-bedroom condo. It was very discouraging.
Instead, I shipped all my stuff up to my Dad’s in Powell River, and decided to live in my van. My overheads are just insurance, gas, and parking. The van is not fuel efficient and parking tickets are bad, so if you’re not careful that can cost a fair bit of money. It’s hard to entertain people, so my social life basically only exists of work. I also can’t cook so I have to go out to restaurants a lot more, which can be expensive. But it’s still cheaper than renting.
When I’ve parked to find a spot to sleep for the night, sometimes there’s dozens of other vehicles—mainly all over Strathcona, and in Grandview by the Walmart and Costco. I have no idea how many of us are living in our vans, though. It’s funny. For the last two years, I volunteered to help with the homeless count. I didn’t think that I would be homeless myself one day.
I would stay with my Dad full-time, but I work in the film industry, so I have to be here. It’s not difficult to find work, but it’s incredible difficult to find somewhere to live that’s really worth the trouble. It’s a frankly moronic situation that Vancouver’s real estate is so bad that there’s an abundance of work here, but people have nowhere to live. This isn’t Fort McMurray or anything. It’s an industrialized, major city.
My long term plans are to save as much money as I can and then get out of Vancouver. I’ve got a leave of absence from medical school, and I’m planning on returning in the autumn next year. Hopefully by then I’ll be out of the van.”
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