Housing Insecurity and Uncertainty is the New Normal

An Interview with Sherry Chen

Originally published in The Volcano

Housing Insecurity and Uncertainty is the New Normal

Sherry Chen, her husband David, and their two young children have lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Dunblane Avenue near Metrotown for four years. Like many immigrant families, Metrotown was the place they first landed. In January 2015 they received informal notice from their landlord that their building had been sold and that the City of Burnaby had approved its rezoning for a massive condo tower. They were being demovicted.

My husband and I knew about the eviction since January of last year but in order to get rent compensation for the demolition, we had to stay until the eviction notice came into effect.

I started to look for new housing last year and I kept looking until December, but I had trouble finding anything affordable. Over that time I saw the rent increase a lot. For a two-bedroom in Metrotown, it was about $1,350, and there were very few available in Metrotown. Then the developer said we could move to another apartment block on the same street. But this apartment (which is owned by the same developer evicting me and demolishing my apartment) will also be demolished within the next one or two years. So my family will face another eviction again very soon. Maybe in another year we will receive another eviction notice. We feel like there is no secure place to live.

Nowadays I know it is difficult for me to afford a new condo. The average price for a new condo in Metrotown is over five hundred thousand dollars. We are a family of four; my husband is a technician, and he is the only wage earner – I can’t work because we have two preschool-aged children. We cannot even afford to pay the deposit, let alone the mortgage payments. A couple years ago, before he was laid off from Telus, my husband and I were making nearly seventy thousand dollars a year. Even with that, the bank would not give us a mortgage for more than $270,000; not enough for a condo. And if we took it, our monthly mortgage payments would be nearly three thousand dollars plus strata fees. Imagine if I paid three thousand dollars a month for a six hundred square-foot condo! It would cut into other costs of children’s clothes, food, and recreation. If I have to choose between eating, or taking children to sports classes – I don’t accept this option.

If this building was not going to be torn down, I would stay here for five or even ten years and have my children grow up here. I like it here because it is very convenient for the people. The library, doctors, bank, grocery store, skytrain, bus loop – everything you want is nearby. Especially for people who don’t have a car it is a very good place to live.

The threat of eviction is negatively impacting my life. The city needs to do something to build stable housing for regular people like us. I went to apply at a co-op housing building in Burnaby in December. They took my application form with one hundred other applicants. I asked them how long I would have to wait for a place, and they said there is no guarantee of a place. You may wait years. They said you better forget us now.

Another housing association told us that they would not allow us to live in a one-bedroom apartment with our children because it was not enough space for a family of four. But if we cannot find or afford to pay for a three-bedroom apartment, where are we supposed to live? Hundreds of people pile up the application forms and only two or three move out every year. In addition, it is too hard for us to be packed in a small one-bedroom unit. For years I set up two beds for my two preschool aged children to sleep in my living room, but as they keep growing this is not an option. We need an affordable two-bedroom unit.

Our situation is a common one for working families with children. The only rental units in Burnaby were built fifty years ago, and as they are lost to the development of luxury condos I don’t see any living space for local, modest, working-class families who need housing urgently. To find housing security, we will have to leave the Vancouver or Burnaby area and go farther away to Surrey, Abbotsford, or even farther. My life is not stable, or settled down.

Has the City of Burnaby done anything to fund more affordable housing? No. Have they implemented housing policies that require developers to share their profits by building one-to-one replacements of rental units for those that they demolished? No. The City has done nothing but issue permits to let developer evict local renters for more profit. This is true and sad.