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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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