How the best years for Greater Vancouver real estate failed one renter family

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      Unless Amanda Schell and her family find a new place soon, they will be homeless on June 1.

      “It’s definitely a huge problem,” Schell told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Their landlord has sold his principal residence in Burnaby, and will be moving into the cottage that they are temporarily renting in Halfmoon Bay, a community on the Sunshine Coast.

      The family knew it was not a long-term rental, but they had to take it.

      “We got evicted from our last place, where we had been living for six years in Sechelt,” Schell related.

      Their former landlord in 2021 started making moves to kick them out to do renovations and sell the property.

      This was the same year that the real-estate market in Greater Vancouver recorded its highest level of 43,999 sales.

      The 2021 market surpassed by four percent the previous all-time sales record of 42,326 made in 2015.

      Incidentally, it was the same year in 2015 when Schell and her family lost a previous rental home in Squamish.

      For Schell, their experience proves that a hot housing market doesn’t lift everyone.

      While home owners benefit in terms of increased wealth, renters get left behind.

      “It feels like renters are being penalized,” Schell said.

      Schell and her family had been renting a house in Squamish for 11 years at $900 per month.

      One day, a real-estate agent from Whistler came around and posted notes in the neighbourhood, stating that all houses there will be bought for about $650,000 each.

      This was not long after a nurse and colleague of Schell with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) sold her house below the asking price of $350,000.

      Schell noted that prices and rent have been on rise in Squamish following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

      The hot housing market in 2015 made the situation worse.

      “People started getting displaced,” Schell said.

      The landlord had a business partner from Surrey who wanted to tear down the Squamish rental property in order to build two new houses at the site.

      Schell’s husband John joined the call, and related that their Squamish landlord was a good man.

      The property owner offered to help them get a discount at another place.

      “There was a couple from Surrey that bought a duplex and they wanted $2,800 [a month], and he said that he could get us in there for $2,200 because we’re good tenants and he wanted to help us out,” John recalled.

      However, the place was “all beat up”, and not suitable for the couple and their two children.

      Priced out of Squamish, Schell and her family left in 2015.

      In December 2015, the benchmark price of a single-family home in Squamish was $638,100.

      The price represents an increase of 37.6 percent over 2010, which was the year of the Winter Olympics.

      As of March 2022, the price of a typical detached house in Squamish has increased by more than 2.5 times compared to December 2015.

      It’s now $1,609,500.

      When Schell and her family moved to the Sunshine Coast in late 2015, the benchmark price of a single-family home in the Sunshine Coast stood at $392,200 in December of that year.

      About seven years later, the typical price of a detached property has increased by more than 2.5 times.

      The benchmark price of a single-family home in the Sunshine Coast reached $995,600 as of March 2022.

      The pressure of looking for a new place has put an added strain on Schell and her family.

      The addictions and mental health worker is currently on medical leave from VCH and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

      She was diagnosed with two types of cancer in 2021. Also last year, she was t-boned in a car accident. She hopes to get back to work after her cancer treatment.

      “There seems to be a lot of things going on: people buying a house and then wanting to sell it in a couple of years’ time for a huge profit, because the market is going up, and so the new buyers buy and their mortgage is higher and so the renters are paying more,” Schell said about what she has observed in the real estate market.

      She related that a work colleague recently shared with her that the woman knows of someone who was renting a house in the Sunshine Coast and the landlord had sold the property.

      “The new landlord said that they [tenants] can stay, but their rent is going to go up 40 percent,” Schell said.

      Schell also noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, many people started moving away from big cities to outlying areas where homes are relatively cheaper.

      “There has been a migration to more affordable places such as the Coast and the Island, causing house values to jump in these communities, and people are selling,” she said.

      Back in 2015 when her family had to leave Squamish, Schell knew of others who also moved because they too were priced out.

      “A lot of people moved to the Sunshine Coast. They moved over the island [Vancouver Island]. They moved inland towards Kelowna and Merritt,” she recalled.

      It’s happening again to Schell and her family as well as others.

      “I have a colleague; they're moving up to Prince George, because they can't find an affordable place,” she said.

      The two best years of 2015 and 2021 for the Greater Vancouver housing market haven’t been kind to Schell and family.

      “The property markets are doing the same thing here now,” Schell said.

      When Schell spoke to the Straight on April 29, her family was scheduled to view a rental home the following Saturday.

      Schell in the evening of April 30 sent a note about what happened.

      “The house would have been perfect for us and I thought the viewing went well,” Schell wrote.

      “Unfortunately, I just heard from them and they have decided to rent to a young couple with a baby.”

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