Renters of Vancouver: “Something needs to be done to correct the housing crisis”

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

      “I have a good, full-time job with the Federal Government. I’m worried that my wife and I won’t be able to afford a new home if our landlord chooses to sell or renovict us. Given that he knows the market value of our suite is much higher than what we pay, we think it might be quite likely.

      “I was born in Surrey, and I’ve always lived in and around Vancouver. I moved into this home in 2009, which is why our rent is so low relative to the area.

      “Technically the apartment is a three-bedroom, but that’s very misleading. It’s in a narrow laneway house that has three floors. There’s the room that we sleep in, my wife is self-employed so one room is dedicated to her profession teaching clients, and the third room is a pantry and storage, because we don’t have any other storage space in the apartment. It’s very small.

      “The landlord raises the rent each year by the maximum he is allowed to under the Residential Tenancy Act. Currently we pay $1569, but the two girls who moved in above us a while ago pay around $1780. Their suite is identical to ours. Two people moved in below us within the last six months, and they pay about $1900 for a two-bedroom basement suite. He knows he could get more money from us if he wanted.

      “We might be able to stretch to pay market rent if we had two incomes, but since November, my wife has had some health issues. She’s got a hospital appointment scheduled in the future, and hopefully when she’s recovered from that she’ll be able to work again. In the meantime, I’m the only person supporting us, and might be for the foreseeable future. We’ve thought about claiming disability benefits, but she doesn’t fulfil the criteria.

      “If we were forced to move out we could downsize, but the smallest we could go would be a two-bedroom because my wife needs to the second one for her job. It would be near-impossible to find a two-bedroom at the same rent as we pay now—and we already spend 53 per cent of our monthly income on our home, which costs around the market average for just a one-bedroom. On top of that, I pay about $85 for Shaw, $85 for our cellphones, $10 for Netflix, $120 for hydro, and around $130 to feed and look after my cats. That leaves about $20 a day to feed two people. It’s doable, but we don’t have any spending money, and we wouldn’t be able to afford a move. We’ve considered going to the suburbs, but the rates are comparable when you factor in commuting costs.

      “The landlord is very bad at fixing things, and we think it might be because he’s trying to force us out so he can raise the rent for the next tenant. One example is when our washing machine broke. I emailed him, and the landlord said that he had to get his handyman—but because the handyman was out east because his parents were sick, the landlord wouldn’t be able to do the job. A month later, I emailed to ask if the handyman was back yet, and the landlord said he wasn’t. Another month went by and I emailed again, and the landlord said I should probably fix it myself. I considered it, but to do that I’d have to lift it down off the wall, and if I got hurt then we wouldn’t have any income at all. More time passed with me contacting him regularly, and seven months later he finally responded saying that he was shipping in some parts. And then it turned out one of them was broken, so we had to wait about four more weeks after that.

      “He won’t fix anything. Even the little things like the door handle, which falls off as I go to pull the door closed. Nothing has been updated or replaced since the house was built—the carpet is at least 25 years old, and it’s thrashed.

      “The landlord is also very difficult with the hydro bills. We don’t think the City has approved the suite downstairs, and our electricity is linked to theirs. B.C. Hydro assumes a certain usage for a household, and the rate jumps at one point, and then another. Because we’re two households combined we’re always being charged the highest amounts. On top of that, he only comes around to give us the bill every six months, and will expect to be paid for half a year’s expensive hydro on the spot. I have to hope that we’ve saved up enough, and there have been times that—because of circumstances beyond our control—we haven’t.

      “In the state we’re in we have just enough to get by, barely. But it’s difficult knowing that we’re one bad event away from potentially being homeless. Something needs to be done to correct the housing crisis in this city."

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