HOUSING CRISIS: One typical family's search for a place to call home

Two parents in the creative arts, three kids and their dog all add up to one serious dilemma when it comes to finding a home to rent in Vancouver.

family, Vancouver, rental, artist
The Postma-Miller family (left to right): Rupert, 10, Harper, 9, Rob, Gina and Hewitt, 16. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

Meet the Postma-Miller family.  

Meet Gina, her husband Rob, their children Hewitt, Rupert and Harper, and their dog Autumn. Gina is an artist, and Rob is a video editor and web designer. Their kids go to school, do homework on weekends, and play in the park behind the backyard.  

In other words, they’re an average Vancouver family, suffering from what has now become an average Vancouver problem: inadequate housing. 

 “This is sh--ty,” Gina tells me, hands resting calmly in her lap. We’re sitting at her kitchen table, discussing the plight of Vancouver’s sizzling rental market. 

“I hear about it all the time,” she says. “The affordability and the lack of choice — you feel like you’re being pushed.”

In April, the family’s landlord announced that his son would be moving into the East Vancouver house they’ve been renting since 2005, giving them until June 2016 to find a new home. The Postma-Millers aren’t complaining — they always knew this day would come — they just didn’t know how difficult it would be to find a new place when it did. 

“We’ve seen places from I guess $2,300 per month to $3,000 per month and some of them are just dives, really,” says Gina. “We’re not super, super picky, but we need enough space for a family of five, we own pets, and we’re creatives that have a home-based business.”

I take a quick look around the house, and they are indeed a creative family: Gina’s paintings adorn the walls, a guitar lies on the living room couch, and the coffee table is littered with the Lego creations of 10-year-old Rupert and nine-year-old Harper.  

I imagine what everything would look like if it were crammed into a three-bedroom home without any storage space; Gina and Rob have done the same, and decided they need at least four bedrooms. 

“One bedroom could be used as the office and the kids would still share a room,” Gina explains. “I don’t think it’s asking too much to stay at the same kind of level of place where you’ve raised your kids for 10 years.”

The Postma-Millers prepare to leave their home of 10 years in East Vancouver. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

On the housing hunt

Now, three months into their full year’s notice, the family’s hunt is still on. Every morning, Gina wakes up, has her coffee and hits the computer in search of a house. She scours Craigslist, real estate sites and notice boards for at least an hour, searching for any glimmer of potential.

“It’s stressful,” she says, leaning back in her chair. “You would think that East Van would be a better buy, but the same price for a whole house in Dunbar is equal to a main floor in East Van in some locations. It’s crazy.”

Gina has relatives and friends looking for her and has registered for a number of four-bedroom co-ops, but is doubtful any of them will result in a new home. She says some of the waitlists for co-op housing exceed two years, and many of them have stopped taking applications at all.  

“You get excited about some things and then they fall through, so it is (mentally exhausting),” she explains. “That’s why I’m at the point that I want to find a place and be done; I don’t want to be doing this for the next year — anticipating a place and then it not working.”

A few weeks ago, the family had a bit of a “heartbreaking” experience with a beautiful house that met all of their needs; they struck a deal with the landlord and came in the next day to sign a contract to discover that it had been rented to someone else who could move in within the week.  

From then on, Gina and Rob vowed not to take their kids on the housing hunt with them. The disappointment takes too heavy a toll. 

Taking its toll

“I was very upset,” says Hewitt, Gina’s eldest. “It just kind of felt like they went behind our backs, which I get. They have to — It’s a month’s rent they’re missing.” 

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