Instead of scoring political points, leaders and citizens alike need to focus on actually protecting renters, and meeting rising demand.
Renting in Vancouver is, and always has been, like living in a proverbial house of cards — stressful.
We all started somewhere. For me, it was a roommate-filled below grade basement suite with 5-foot ceilings.
Not at all ideal.
Maybe it was the dark dampness of that basement that motivated me, an extra job helped me find a way ‘add cards’ and upgrade. (Read: no life) Reflect now on how much your first rental apartment cost you. My first studio, living solo, was $400/month. In the heart of Kits. It was a ground floor, laneway facing, 400-square foot apartment at 2057 West 2nd.
A search with those specs, now shows rent in that spot has more than tripled since I called it home in 1987.
I guarantee paycheques have not kept ups for those in that “just out of high school, taking post secondary education, with two part-time jobs to make ends meet, wacky time.”
In trying to find some Middle on the controversy sparked by BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson this past week, I realized that if someone had asked me about growing up in Vancouver as a renter between the ages of 18 to 35, I might have said something similar.
Like his, mine is a story of living with way less — he was pasta and tomato sauce, I was a head of lettuce and bottle of salad dressing – to stretch my income until pay day. Paycheque to paycheque, four friends in a two-bedroom apartment, two jobs and no luxuries — no dinners out, never mind vacations.
That’s what it was. But, unlike today, I was never forced to literally live 10 months at a time wondering if I’d need to pack and move on a few months’ notice.
Wilkinson has since qualified his remarks, saying he was talking about himself, and his experience. He has since also acknowledged that his comments didn’t take into account the current struggle for seniors facing renoviction, or people stuck renting at inflated prices making saving for down-payments to purchase property undoable.
During those “rental years,” I could describe my experience of the era as a “fun and wacky time” would never use those words to describe my many rental hops. (Don’t even get me started about moving with a pet in this town!)
Searching for an affordable suite to suit my ever-evolving income was beyond stressful back in the late ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s.
Today, we wonder how our kids might afford to live here in the neighbourhoods we now call home. Back then, one could cut corners and save; but at today’s cost of living, you must cut corners just to stay in place.
When someone of, ahem, seasoned experience chimes in on how hard work and sacrifice is the golden ticket to home ownership — it really seems to be advice coming from a good place. It worked for them. But then the fight kicks off, and gets no one any closer to their goal.
Perhaps a better response than “I had five roommates!” might be: “life ain’t fair, but you will find a way”?
Gone are the days where great swaths of the city were thriving rental communities. There was literally something for EVERYONE: families, yuppies, hippies, and seniors. Back then, Kitsilano was destination A-1 for renters. Those same suites today are, for the most part, parcelled off as expensive units for sale.
Even the beautiful character homes, once carved up into suites to house an army of roommates, are now for-sale “plexes” of some number or another.
In the last decade, the house of cards renting game has been flattened. Secure rentals are ever-more unavailable and unaffordable. If you’re lucky enough to find a place, you’re often forced into a year-to-year agreement that gives zero security.
When it comes to renting, it’s next to impossible to draw parallels of days gone by in Metro Vancouver, a lesson certainly learned by Mr. Wilkinson. Our big little town grew and grew, and today has became a Major Metropolitan Marketplace, a la San Francisco, Sydney or Manhattan, with concurrent prices per square foot.
A very unfortunate consequence of our rapid growth is that supply is now dwarfed by demand. Average “affordable” rent in the city is $2,100/month for a one bedroom. That’s remarkably expensive.
It is time, in my opinion, to find a way to give relief to the struggling taxpayers.
It’s time to silence NIMBYs, consider new and different ideas, and create communities for renters of all walks, everywhere in our city. At the forefront, there needs to be safeguards for citizens.
Municipal and provincial governments alike need to act on behalf of all taxpayers and give relief to those trying to stay in the city.
The Middle on renting and the current challenges associated with it, really, is to vote. Take personal steps to make affordability a platform issue and make it known to your MLA/City Councillors that your vote is tied to more affordable rental stock.
Fight at City Hall. Write to leaders (you can find their email addresses very easily!) Get noisy about it. Go direct.
Resist the urge to blame homeowners, because your goal might just be to join them. Many people who currently own homes worked extremely hard to earn their property. It need not be an argument about the “haves” and the “have nots.” The way to get the marketplace back to some realistic baseline is to stand together as taxpayers and demand affordable, secure, rental space.
Getting stressed out by the quips of leaders gets us nowhere. Instead, let’s focus on telling them what we need.
Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.