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  • Writer's pictureAlessia Balducci

Housing Crisis in Vancouver for Young People: Between Anxiety and Hope

Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada for home buyers and young people are battling for the few barely affordable rent options.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada © Alessia Balducci

“I think about the housing situation every day. At some point a little thing in my brain would come up and be like: ‘Oh my God, what if we didn’t have this house anymore and we had to look all over again?’”

Giulia Belotti (25) is a researcher at the UBC and has been living in Vancouver for three years. She shares a one bedroom apartment with her partner in Kitsilano, a quiet residential neighborhood. Her building is built specifically for rent and owned by a financial corporation. They never met the owners. 

“Finding this place was a nightmare. At the viewings you would see 20 to 30 people, couples waiting in line and hoping they’re gonna be the one who stands out.” She says that working from home is what gave her the edge. “It’s just a matter of luck and how privileged you are to have time to go see these apartments. Then, you don’t have a choice. It’s just whatever you find, you find it.” 

Downtown Vancouver © Alessia Balducci

International students in Vancouver

“International students are at a disadvantage because they don’t know the local housing laws and schools often won’t help them,” explains Ava Ferenc (21), director of College Relations at DSU (the student union of Douglas College). In 2023, the number of internationals increased by 29% over the previous year and by 63% over the last five. 

“They have limited budgets if they don’t come from rich families,” she adds, “so they are forced to live with many people in unsuitable housing conditions and may have to choose between a roof over their heads or food in their stomachs.”

Camila (19), an international student from Peru, confirms these struggles. “The first place I stayed at in Vancouver was near my college but it gave me a lot of trouble. We had a lot of animals coming in, the landlord and his brother used to come unannounced into our basement [she was sharing the space with three other girls], and use our washing machine, dryer and fridge. It was very uncomfortable.”

Mouse “finally trapped” in Camila’s previous apartment © Camila Torres

After months of research she finally found a better accommodation downtown. To afford it, she had to find a well paid job – which wasn’t easy, as “it can take more than 6 months to be employed if you don’t have a lot of experience, there’s a lot of competition,” she says. She now pays 1,300 CAD a month for a shared room. 

For Canadians too, it’s no better 

Margaret (23) grew up in the Vancouver area and is a college student at Douglas. She had to move out of her previous room because of black mold, mice, insects and some unpleasant roommates. “It was a pretty run down place overall,” she says, “the landlord would always refuse to help with the problems and didn’t maintain the building at all. He just pretty much only collected our rent.” Eventually she moved out because of her roommates. She’s now looking for a new place with people she knows to feel safer, but prices are high – about 4 to 5 thousand CAD for a two bedroom. The average price for a one bedroom condo in Vancouver is currently 2,671 CAD. For a two bedroom, it’s 3,628. 

The city also attracts people from other regions such as Stephan (27), who’s originally from Nova Scotia. He attended film school in Vancouver and he’s trying to make his way into the film industry. He shares an apartment with four people in an old house in Kitsilano. 

“Back home rent is a lot cheaper, but there’s also less demand,” he says. “Now I spend 890 CAD and it’s pretty reasonable compared to other things I’ve seen. I also have to pay off my student loans (200 CAD per month), so that’s why I wanted to find a cheap solution.” However, this was not an easy challenge. 

“My lease was almost up and I didn’t have a place to stay yet, so it was pretty stressful. I eventually found it the last week I had, but it kinda sucks having to wait until the last minute. Luckily, I had a lot of friends helping me out. I couldn’t have done this without them.”

Prices, vacancy rate and regulation

“Nothing is a fair price, I get that the location is amazing but it’s not that, this is just the market price of Vancouver right now,” says Giulia Belotti. She also mentions that most places are unfurnished and the appliances, as in the case of her kitchen, are quite old. 

However, the options are limited: the city’s vacancy rate is 0.9%, so people have no choice but to jump on whatever is available at the last minute – even if it’s not safe, priced fairly or in a good location, and landlords are clearly making the most of it.

According to Province of British Columbia regulations, rent cannot increase more than 3.5% per year. This used to be 1.5% in 2022 and 2% in 2023. However, when someone leaves an apartment, the landlords can decide on a new price regardless of what the previous tenants were paying. 

“Our best friends recently moved into our building, in a condo with a worse view than ours but pretty identical spaces,” says Giulia Belotti, “and they’ve been paying 2,600 CAD a month, while the tenants who left were paying about 1,700. The landlords can in fact push the price up to whatever they want, and there’s a lot of speculation.” Giulia and her partner have been notified of the 3.5% increase starting May 1st and are now paying 2,380 CAD for their one bedroom.

Supplies and commodification: the main driving causes 

As she explains (based on her research at UBC), there are two driving factors – a supply shortage and high demand on one hand with a lack of skilled labor on the other. Add to the fact that the bureaucracy to build more houses is long and, in most cases, because of zone regulation, they’re likely to be single family houses rather than buildings housing more people.

At the same time, the market is also extremely commodified. According to Statistic Canada, 42.1% of houses and condos in the Greater Vancouver area are used as an investment by anyone with capital. This drives the prices to a point where local home buyers cannot compete. Currently, one million CAD will only get you a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver. For the same amount of money, you would get almost three times the space in Edmonton, Alberta.

This also explains the reasoning behind the ban of foreign buyers (which excludes some international students, temporary workers and refugees) in place from 2022 and now extended to 2025. However, only 7% of condos and 2.5% of houses are owned by foreign investors in BC. 

“Housing should be a human right,” Giulia Belotti says. Now it’s a commodity. It should be a human need. You need shelter.”

Vancouver: a city to put down roots? 

Sunset in Burnaby, Vancouver © Alessia Balducci

The housing crisis is showing no signs of improvement, leaving young people in the city conflicted about their future. 

“Everything is like a roller coaster here right now,” says Camila, the international student from Peru. “I don’t think I will stay here much longer, I’m tired of a lot of things. If I wanted to start a family or live here long term, have a child or buy a house it’s gonna be too expensive for something that might not even be that good.” 

For job opportunities, there’s more optimism, at least from Stephan. “I see myself long term in Vancouver especially when it comes to my career,” he says referring to his ambitions in the film industry. “Here’s where I feel like it’s going to happen, or at least start. I definitely see myself here for a couple more years, or maybe forever, who knows, but the decision will definitely not be made because of the housing crisis.”

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