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We Couldn't Escape B.C.'s Spreading House Nightmare

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BC HOUSING CRISIS
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About a year ago, I wrote about the bittersweet feeling of having to flee Vancouver for the (slightly) more affordable shores of Victoria.

Last week we found out our landlords were putting up our home -- the one that had given us reprieve from Vancouver's crapulous housing scene -- for sale. Victoria's real estate market is off the hook right now. A nondescript family home on our street -- a sleepy suburb near the University of Victoria -- sold for $98,000 above the list price of $600,000 in two days.

This is exactly what we moved to the island to escape. But Vancouver followed us here.

Our landlords, who are realtors themselves and own two other investment properties in the capital region, handed us a letter that said "the time has come" to sell our house. It's a nice turn of phrase; as if the decision was made by happy circumstance, by the wind, by the cosmos. A fortuitous augury in their soup bones, say -- rather than a deliberate resolution by two human beings with rational faculties to kick a family of four out of their home because they can make a busload of cash.

When we applied to take the lease last fall, we were told that they were looking for  "long-term" tenants, someone reliable who wouldn't be picking up and leaving again in a year. This week has been a grim reminder that such demands only work in one direction.

We love this apartment -- our kids love it. Last summer we invested time and money to install a vegetable garden, a raspberry trellis and several fruit bushes. We took out a poplar stand, staked some wild cherry saplings and pruned back the overgrown apple tree. The walls are lined with my children's terrible artwork and streaks of errant marker. Little pieces of Lego and stale Cheerios are irrevocably lost down heating vents and storm drains.

Cleaning our apartment so that prospective evictors will find it nice enough to buy is a bizarre experience. Our landlords gave us $100 in cash when they informed us they were selling the house as an "incentive" to keep the house clean. They stand to make $500,000 easy from the sale.

Yes, the offer was insulting, but you're damn right we took the money.

I don't want to fault my landlords individually -- well, actually I do. A lot. But it's not very helpful to our situation -- or, probably, to my mental health.

I like to think that if I had the money to buy a house, I wouldn't evict anyone in order to live in the home they couldn't. But that personal moral code is worth nothing if the society we live in not only makes it easy to evict someone, but makes it easy to feel like it's an okay thing to do. Like you had no choice. Like it's just "one of those things."

It's not one of those things.

The vacancy rate in Victoria is somewhere in the vicinity of zero per cent. This is the fourth time in six years we've had to move. And to be clear, we have an extreme amount of privilege to be able to have lived in such a lovely apartment and wherever we end up, despite the stress and cost, we will have a roof over our heads.

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It is extraordinary that we should count ourselves lucky not to be one of the fifty or so campers on the B.C. Supreme Court lawn also facing eviction. But that is what decades of housing policy drunk on its own inflated value have wrought.

B.C.'s various levels of government have shown no urgency to build up rental or social housing stock. Rent control for existing tenancies is feeble and overburdened; rent control between tenancies is non-existent.

Governments have been reluctant to do anything to cool down the absurd housing market, which has been the single-largest driver of wealth creation in the province -- for those lucky enough to get in on the action.

We've now witnessed firsthand the hollowing out of communities in three Vancouver neighbourhoods and now it's happening here in Victoria. This isn't even gentrification anymore in any recognizable sense. In fact, gentrification seems like a folksy, tenderhearted word for what is now happening.

Gentrification has always been about displacement and it's always been heartless. It's a bit rich for me to call it a crisis now that gentrification's descendants are threatening the livelihoods of middle-class folk. But our society apparently has no qualms about saying: if you can't afford a house worth three-quarters of a million dollars, we don't want you to be part of it. Perhaps it's time to drop the vocabulary eliding what is actually going on.

B.C. pays a lot of lip service to "community." In practice, this usually means something like having access to a café or a farmers market -- or a giant corporate-sponsored yoga session on the Burrard Bridge. Rarely does it mean having a home you can afford to stay in for more than two years. But it should.

The day our landlords came over to hand deliver our eviction-promise note, we had our next-door neighbours, who don't speak English, over in our house for the first time. They had two kids of an age with ours. It was awkward, but everyone was smiling. It's saddening to think in all likelihood that won't happen again.

It's simply impossible to build any sort of meaningful community -- a real sense of belonging -- when you don't even know if you'll still live in a place longer than two years. That's the social cost of the reckless policies that have led us to this point.

The personal cost, well above the stress, the slow creep of ever-more unaffordable rents and geographical readjustments, is the dread I'm already feeling of having to explain to my five-year old what the word "eviction" means.

This article originally appeared on rabble.ca.

Image: Flickr/Aimee Ray (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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