Renters of Vancouver: "Where do we go?"
“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
"I’ve rented the same apartment in the West End for 16 years. Now the building is being sold, and people like me are falling through the cracks.
"My apartment complex has been a really great place to live over the years. The initial building owner didn’t put up the rents, ever. One of the guys who’s been here 30 years once raised his own rent, because she was doing work on the building and he felt bad that he wasn’t contributing more. She was a total sweetheart. With the Shaw cable, for example, the workers told her to charge everyone separately, but she said no.
"She got older, and had to sell the building years ago. It was bought by a property management company. We’ve had some good and bad building managers since it was taken over, but mostly we’ve been pretty lucky. Now it’s been sold again to a developer, and they’re going to tear it down to make luxury condos and a few units of social housing.
"It’s frustrating that my home will be demolished. But it’s a low rise in the West End, and we need more housing units in the area. The low rise wasn’t going to last anyway—but it’s still sad that it’s happening to us.
"The hard thing for me now is to find a new place. I’ve been working for decades, but I have a low income that just about covers my expenses at the moment. I currently pay $880 in rent, but any new place I move to will be much higher. My savings in my RRSP are just over $100,000. That means I’m not eligible for B.C. Housing’s subsidized accommodation or rental assistance. I also tried with the Vancouver Housing Corporation, and I’m not eligible for that either.
"I’ve thought about withdrawing my RRSP early, but if I do, I will lose 30 per cent of the money in tax, and then will have to pay income tax on top. I’ll only end up with about half of the money, and I won’t have anything left to live off in retirement. On top of that, my work might end in February, and it’s getting harder to find a job because I’ve encountered a lot of discrimination against hiring older people.
"Even if I do withdraw enough to make me eligible for B.C. Housing, the coordinator I met with said not to rely on that idea. The waiting list for a place is years long, and she said that I’m behind so many people, including all the new refugees who will be coming to Vancouver.
"The good thing about the situation is that the developers are using the city’s Tenant Relocation Plan, and they’re being more generous with the payouts than the city demands. I’ll get $2500 in moving expenses, for example, rather than the allocated $750, and I’ll receive financial compensation of around $5000 in free rent because I’ve lived in the building for so long.
"I’ll be looking for new places myself, but there’s also someone at the city who’s in charge of handling our building—and three others that the developer has bought—who said she will help find me somewhere too. I’m starting early because I think she will be inundated with requests, because rents are just so much higher now. Where do we go?
"I would like to stay in the West End. I like having my community around me—that’s so important to me—and I don’t know if I’ll be able to find that somewhere else. I might have to move to a suburb which has a much lower walkability score and no community centres. The Tenant Relocation Plan is a good scheme to protect renters, but it’s still scary out there.
"I feel like people like myself are falling between the cracks—those who have worked hard to save, but those savings disadvantage us from getting assistance. As a result, we’ll be living away from our communities, and still have nothing left for retirement."
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