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The affordability crunch hits home

August 18th, 2008 · 5 Comments

I write a lot about housing, affordable housing, homelessness and the rest, something I got interested in ten years ago when it was a blip on most people’s radar out here. So I think I know what the situation is. However, every so often, something happens that drives it home to me what’s really going on out there.

I posted my basement suite on craigslist Tuesday at about 2 p.m. It’s on okay suite, not the worst, but not the fanciest. I’m not one of those homeowners who’s raised the house to create higher ceilings. It’s about 540 square feet and the stove is at least 15years old. I charge $650, which I thought was reasonable and in the ballpark for the part of Mount Pleasant I live in.

The calls started coming in at about 2:01 p.m. After the first 10 calls in half an hour that effectively prevented me from getting any work done, I put a message on my machine telling people to send me emails instead. By 9 that night, I pulled the ad off craigslist because even the emails were overwhelming me. In all, I’d say I’ve had almost 100 calls (some from the newspaper ad that I couldn’t get pulled for a day). One young guy offered me $100 over whatever anyone else was willing to pay so that he and his girlfriend could get out of the 340-square-foot basement hole they were in on Fraser Street. One couple described themselves as professionals in their early 30s, who were dying to get out of their bachelor apartment on a busy intersection nearby. People who worked at galleries, in publishing, at talent agencies called. So did lots of graduate students. And then, slow off the mark, towards the tail end of the 100 calls, so did lots of men with the accents of various locales around the world. And this was all happening in the middle of the month, not at the beginning, when presumably most of the vacant apartments had already changed hands.

The whole experience was actually scary. I felt like the helicopter pilot in the evacuation of Saigon, someone whose whimsical choices about which of the supplicants I would call back would alter their lives. It made me feel like going out and buying an apartment building, just so I could rent it out to all the desperate and very nice people who called and emailed.

It was strange, too, because I had just finished doing research on affordable housing and noticed in all the statistics that I dredged up that, according to CMHC, about 25,000 apartments disappeared between 1996 and 2006 in the $500-$750 range. Most of them reappeared in the $750-$1,000 range, which would be okay if 25,000 households had also moved up in income in the same ten years but, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, it felt like everyone in that group was all calling me to find a place to stay.

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  • Sarah

    Oh my – tell me about it! I live in a nice housewhose top two floors has been converted into flats, and Craigslisted the smallest one for my (rather elderly) landlord last week. I didn’t put a phone number on it – thank god – but I had literally 30 replies in a few hours. It’s a bachelor for $565, no laundry. Peole are so desperate! I was joking today that I felt like Sophie – who lives? who dies? I mean, the first cut was anyone who was rude enough to send me an email 4 hours after their first one demanding a response – hello, I work. Then I cut out the under 25 crowd. That still left around 20. Luckily, the sister of a high school friend heard about it through the grapevie and either she, or my friend who got me my kickass part-time job, is gonna get the suite. I wish I had 50 more to rent.

  • Jackie

    This sounds like my hellish house-hunt with my roommate two years ago! We’d both be at our respective day jobs, bodily-twitching on the ‘refresh’ button on Craigslist, anxiously waiting for the next post to pop up. When we finally found an affordable two-bedroom ground-floor suite in Kitsilano, I dropped everything to rush over to see the apartment, resumes in hand. The only way we got in was by negotiating with the current tenants, offering cash up front, and phoning the landlord after hours. I felt like a slimy business-person afterwards.

    My most recent move was a lot smoother because I was moving in with my boyfriend. The ‘economy of love,’ as my friend likes to call it, opened up our options greatly because we would be able to split the rent of a one-bedroom place that would regularly be out of our price range if we were moving in by ourselves. Still, we had to secure an apartment in February to move in May.

    I don’t know how single, working people find housing in this city, especially if they want to live by themselves instead of with a roommate.

  • Re: That apartment building you’d like to acquire FABula…..

    Sure would be interested in reading your summing-up on the how and why it came to be that all those units are no longer being built for all those ‘desperate and very nice people’ just down the hill from you (and me) in SE False Creek.



  • Greta

    Forget about Jim Green. Where in the world is James Green?

    I’m wondering if the NPA has encouraged a candidate named Greg Robertson to run for mayor.