“I was, by many standards, the definition of success in Vancouver. I had a permanent, full-time job at the top of my field as senior editor of Vancouver Magazine, I had a rich network of professional connections, a solid group of close friends, and stable, albeit cramped and expensive, rental housing. Yet my entire life felt like a struggle. …
I quickly found the city I’d returned to had changed — and not just in the way that condo towers had supplanted even more vacant lots, old houses or beloved music venues. The tone had turned hostile. Property values, ever the stuff of shock and awe, had begun to skyrocket, defying even the most bullish predictions. Then the “million dollar line” moved out of Vancouver, erasing the division between east and west on the affordability scale. The revelation gave rise to a #donthave1million social media campaign which, for about a minute, became something of a millennial rallying cry. The response from the city’s powerbrokers — developers, newspaper columnists, etc. — was by and large blunt and cruel: if young people couldn’t afford it here, they should just leave. I shot back with a column detailing the absurdity of a city that is simply OK with the fact that its young cannot afford to live there and mused about whether it was time for me to leave for more welcoming pastures. …
My year away had opened my eyes to the fact that other cities also offered the uber-modern urban experience that Vancouver — ever narcissistic in its examinations — likes to think it has a lock on. …
This time, finding a place for my newly formed family of three —my boyfriend, me and his dog — was defeating and degrading. My place didn’t allow pets so staying put wasn’t an option. It took us four months to find a dog-friendly apartment in our price range with a reasonable amount of space (i.e. more than 450 square feet). In the two years since my last search, the rental market seemed to have gone completely insane. Half the listings we came across were scams, and apartments in once-affordable areas of the city, like the West End, or Main Street, were going for nearly $2,000 a month. Landlords seemed to demand everything just short of a claim on your firstborn child to consider you a serious contender. One woman refused us because I wouldn’t hand over my unredacted bank statements as proof of income to a total stranger.
While we searched we sublet, put our stuff in storage and lived out of boxes and slept on blowup air mattresses in bare rooms. My boyfriend started looking for work as a graphic designer and found the average pay in Vancouver to be $10,000 to $15,000 less than the same kind of work in Calgary, which, it bears noting, was in the middle of a recession at the time. Meanwhile, I had started my new job, which I loved, but the stress and instability of our housing situation made it difficult to focus on the demands of this new, high-stress position. …
My own collapse came when my partner declared that, although he did not wish to end our relationship, he couldn’t stay in Vancouver. I couldn’t fault him for a single reason he gave. We had finally landed in a 600 square foot coach house behind a mansion in Shaughnessy. It had a fancy address but the place itself was falling apart. The windows, which had been painted shut when we moved in, were now wedged open and wouldn’t close; the dishwasher (a major luxury we were excited to have) had broken and become a mildew factory, the door would only close when locked and would only lock if I heaved on it with my entire body weight. The heater in the bedroom buzzed so loud that I had to wear earplugs while I slept and we didn’t have a smoke detector. There was no storage, no place to put a kitchen table and nowhere else for us to go. For this, we paid $1,700 a month to a woman worth millions who clearly didn’t need the rent. It was obvious we were paying her to be onsite security for the winter months she spent in California.
The neighbourhood itself was like living on an abandoned film set. Aside from our landlord, we only ever saw construction workers, landscapers, and on occasion, the squatters who lived in the empty mansion across the street — just a line on someone’s investment sheet somewhere.”
– excerpts and photo from ‘I Left Vancouver Because Vancouver Left Me’, Jessica Barrett, The Tyee, 30 Oct 2017 [hat-tip Keith]
The whole Tyee piece is a must read.
Even for those of us familiar with all of the themes, this is a gutting story. The city really is hollowing itself out.
Greed and influence seem to have taken an even firmer grip of the reins and all momentum now is towards more and more and more of the same.
Perhaps a phoenix will rise out of the aftermath of a massive price crash.
Perhaps, later, Jessica and her family will come back. But I suspect she won’t, even if Vancouver miraculously becomes more hospitable, because she will have built a good life in Calgary (and Calgary will be the better for it).