Renters of Vancouver: “My pension is $1200 a month. I thought I would end up in a shelter.”

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

      “I rented a condo for 10 years, until it was suddenly sold. My pension provides me with $1200 a month—but that’s the current price of a basement suite. Because everywhere was so expensive, I thought that I would end up in a housing shelter.

      “Then a travel writer friend of mine, who works as an insurance adjuster, was dealing with an apartment owner who was renovating suites and looking for new tenants. She told him about me, and he got in touch. I was more than relieved to move in.

      “Unfortunately, my idyllic ending hasn’t turned out so great. First, I was warned by someone that this building was on the bedbug registry. I checked it out, but it was an old posting, and when I asked the apartment manager he assured me that the building was safe and clean.

      “That wasn’t true. At the end of August, I found a small, suspicious bug on my pillow. I squeezed it and found blood. I immediately phoned the manager—but he never came over to check.

      “I got some spray myself, and distributed it thoroughly—but then I found more bedbugs. I immediately called the owner, and he told me that his friend, who is apparently a Health Inspector, said that there was already a lot of stuff in place. The landlord told me to buy a special vacuum from Canadian Tire because he didn’t want to spray the building. I said I couldn’t afford it, so he sent one over with the manager who was also supposed to bring me some white powder for the bugs—which of course never did arrive. I was expected to lift the mattress and box spring several times a day to spray, which was a big strain on my back.

      “My daughter insisted that I get an evaluation from the bedbug assessor, and he said that I needed my apartment and all the other suites sprayed. In the meantime, friends bought me mattress covers, and powder for the bugs. After making a lot of fuss, I was informed that Pest Control would be spraying all of the suites on a particular date. I spent a lot of time packing up my things in preparation, and a friend invited me to stay at her place for the afternoon with my pet bird. When I came home later that day, there was no chemical odor in the suite—which was strange because I’d been specifically told to air it out when I got home. Later that evening I ran into my neighbour from the adjoining suite, where I thought the bugs had come from, and he said that they had definitely not sprayed his apartment.  

      “When I finally got the manager on the phone, he was angry. He said they didn’t have to spray the neighbour’s suite because they didn’t have bugs—which was odd, seeing as some weeks before his wife had shown another tenant and I her bites. When I called the Pest Control, they said they had it on their schedule to spray my suite, but didn’t have the final papers in. So whether they did or not, I’ll never know.

      “Then the mouse problem started. For well over a month they were running under and over my bed, up the bedroom curtains, and scurrying by my feet. The traps and poison did no good. I had been told by the manager that the pipes had been caulked to block the holes, but they hadn’t. I wrote a registered letter to the owner of the building about it, because it was not only disgusting but unhealthy. I was finding mouse poop everywhere: in my clothes, books, dishes, and cupboards. I had to call the Health Department before anything was done, and that was just for my suite—not for the whole building, as it should have been.

      “In general, there are a lot of questionable people here. I was warned to always keep my door locked, even if I was just going downstairs to do my laundry. For the most part, the individuals I’ve met, especially my direct neighbours, have been helpful and friendly, but there are others who are less so. Recently, for example, I had a small cabinet that I’d left downstairs while I waited for someone to carry it up the three flights. I put my name and apartment number on it, but it was stolen. A week later, it was returned by a man who I suspect of being a crack addict, who tried to sell it back to me for $10, saying someone sold it to him.

      “There was another incident just a week or so after I moved in. I was in the laundry room chatting to another tenant and heard a loud noise. We were told to stay in the room. There were police everywhere. Evidently, they’d thrown a stun grenade through a ground floor window to apprehend a man who was alleged to have robbed someone on the next street. This is the kind of place it’s turned out to be.

      “I can’t just up and move, because I can’t afford it, and there’s no place to move to. All the low-cost rentals and B.C. Housing spaces are full. And to find another place now you have to have a bank account with a lot of money, and disposable income to put down on a deposit. There are more people living on the streets and shelters who are just like you and me, who got turfed out of their lodgings and can’t find another affordable place to live. I was lucky myself, because frankly I thought I was going to land in a shelter. But it’s not an easy situation to be in.”

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