“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I moved to Vancouver from Prince George with my partner back in October. We made the decision because we thought we would be able to get better medical care here. Boy, were we wrong.
“My partner is a transfemale. We not only thought the city would be safer for her, but it’s also the home of the beauty school where she wanted to study. I have three children, aged seven, nine, and 13. The eldest is autistic, and was not receiving the right support in Prince George. Vancouver has many more resources to help with autism, and that was a big reason for the move. I’d been planning it for at least three years—but if I knew then what I do now, there’s no way I would have come.
“We moved here in October, and stayed briefly in a hostel on West Pender. We were there for about a month before we found a place, close to the PNE. The agreement was a one-year lease, but we were there for only four months before the landlord went crazy.
“My middle child got really sick in December, and ended up having her appendix removed. During the time that she was in the hospital, she came down with a really bad respiratory virus. She has asthma—which I thought was controlled well enough—but the virus triggered a very severe asthma attack. It was really frightening. She was hooked up to facemasks and machines to she could breathe, because her oxygen levels were so low. We almost lost her.
“During that time, the other two kids had to go to school, and so did my partner. We would do shifts so we could get the children to class, and I would come home early so they would all receive the proper care. We were going back and forth from the Children’s Hospital to our place so regularly that it cost upwards of $150 a day to travel.
“That meant that, in the month of December, we lost around $500 of our income. I tried to apply for help with that, but I was denied because I was a local. There are a lot of programs for medical transportation in Vancouver, but they’re typically for people who live out of the city and need to be taken in.
“As a result, we were late on rent. Our landlord knew what was going on. We paid most of it—we were only about $300 behind on our $1900 payment. She gave us a certain amount of time to come up with the money—but before that we reached that date, she started harassing me about a hydro bill. I told her that it wouldn’t be a problem paying, but due to the fact that we lost a lot of money when our child was sick, it would take me two or three weeks to get it paid. She claimed she was fine with that. But two days later, she started bringing it up again.
“My partner ended up taking over the conversations, because the stress of dealing with the situation was setting off my anxiety, and I ended up in the hospital. I got really sick. After a couple of days of that, she accused us of having an illegal grow-op in the basement—which was ridiculous, not least because I have three children—and threatened that she’d send the police round, who would remove us. It spiraled completely out of control. She ended up saying we owed her $1700, even though that was nowhere near true.
“I was on the phone with the Residential Tenancy Branch the whole time to find out where we stood, and what we could do to protect our rights. It came to a head when we saw the landlady sitting outside the house in her car with her partner, waiting for us to leave so she could change the locks. We called the police, and we were actually on the phone with them when the landlady tried to barge in. The kids were crying, because they felt like they weren’t allowed to be in their own place.
“We then decided to send our children back to Prince George to live with their father until we could sort the situation out. None of them were sleeping at night. It wasn’t fair to them to struggle through so much uncertainty, especially with an autistic child, because when their routine is disrupted, it sends their whole world into turmoil.
“We left the house, and moved into a motel on Kingsway. We then began looking for a new home.
“We found that landlords demanded all kinds of information, like credit and even criminal record checks. That’s crazy. I don’t understand why I should have to prove that I’m a good person when they don’t—I lost my kids because the old landlady went back on her word. Together my partner and I have enough for a damage deposit and a few months’ worth of rent upfront, and I’ve told landlords that. Even then, it isn’t enough. I’ve sent more than 500 emails in the last six months, and that’s not including texts, calls, or applications on realtors’ websites. It’s very disheartening to have found nothing.
“We’ve since moved to two more hotels. Right now, with my partner being trans, I have to escort her to the washroom to make sure that she doesn’t suffer any abuse. Even though we’re in a private room, there are bed bugs and cockroaches. My partner has had to drop out of school because of the stress.
“I have no idea what we’re going to do next. We’ve looked at B.C. housing, but the waitlist is three to five years. People can get temporary housing at shelters, but we can’t do that. With my partner being trans, she would have to go to an emergency shelter for trans people. I wouldn’t be able to go with her. If I were to go to a different shelter, my partner couldn’t come with me. We are each other’s security blanket. What can we do?
I honestly don’t want to be here anymore. The only reason I’m staying is because I want to do everything that I can to rebuild a life and get my kids back. My partner has hope that we can do it here. I’m not so sure anymore. If we had the opportunity to pack up and leave, I’d do it.
“We’ve had to give up everything. Our whole lives are sitting in a storage unit in Port Coquitlam, and we have nothing to show for it. Vancouver is a beautiful city, but it’s not for those who are trying to make it, and have a family. It’s just for the rich.”More