(by Margot Grant)
Karen* (34) works at a store in Gibsons. She has three children (ten, eight and five) and a cat. She can’t find housing on the Coast and temporarily lives in a dilapidated trailer. She anticipates living in a tent starting June 1.
She can afford $1,100 a month including hydro, which is about 50 per cent of her income. Eleven hundred dollars seems to be the going rate for a one-bedroom, she says. She is willing to live in such a place; she has no choice. But landlords prefer to rent one-bedrooms to single people instead of mothers with three young children and a cat.
Until March 2016, Karen lived in a good place with a garden in Roberts Creek. It had two bedrooms and cost $1,100 a month, all included. However, the landlord wanted to use the space for Air B&B.
Karen and her kids moved to a cottage which another single mom sublet to them for $1,250 per month, hydro included. It was more than Karen could afford but they lived there for five months.
When the woman came back and they had to move out, Karen was able to rent a two-bedroom B.C. Housing apartment on Binnacle Avenue in Sechelt for $699 a month. Because it was deemed too small for a family of four, she was only allowed to stay for one month. But since a bigger unit was going to become available, B.C. Housing let her stay for another six months. Unfortunately, the bigger unit did not materialize.
Karen had a really hard time finding another place. She needed a roommate, she figured. But first she had to find a house, cottage or suite.
Several houses with rents between $1,200 and $1,600 were gone before she could phone.
She did manage to contact a landlord who had a house for rent for $1,600. When she arrived, three Vancouverites—singles—were bidding on it. The highest bidder got it at $1,900 a month.
“Why would a landlord turn away that kind of money?” Karen says. “I totally get that. But the market has gone crazy and wages have not increased. Two of my co-workers are struggling as well. Where do working people live? Where do single mothers find a place on the Coast?
“I’m a good tenant and I maintain the yard. I have good references. It does not count at all anymore.”
Karen eventually found a two-bedroom upstairs apartment on Gilmour Road in Gibsons for $1,740 plus hydro. One of her co-workers asked if he could be her roommate. It turned out to be a disastrous move.
The shower was only accessible through one of the bedrooms. The co-worker had insisted on renting it for $540 plus part of the hydro. Karen paid the landlady a $600 damage deposit for her $1,200 part of the rent.
The accommodation was not pleasant. “It was filthy, the dishwasher did not work, there was a gap at the door causing draft, the bathroom taps did not work, the outlets in the living room had no power, and there was no washing machine,” Karen says.
And in no time at all, a disagreement with the roommate developed. He did not like the family walking through his room to use the shower and started locking the door. What was worse: he did not pay anything.
Karen decided to leave. The five-week stay ended up costing her $3,000. The landlady did not return her damage deposit. Karen has lodged a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch in Burnaby. The procedure will take months.
The family was now homeless. Karen put her stuff in storage. The cat went to a foster home.
A friend of a friend offered her the use of a trailer for $650 a month. It has no bathroom and nothing works. It is dirty and it stinks, she says. The children do not want to be there. The two oldest stay at friends’ houses while the youngest can stay with his father. The children are mad at her, Karen says. “They ask me why other people have a place and we don’t.”
A friend with a small cabin offered Karen the occasional use of his only bedroom, which has bunk beds, so the children can visit with their mother. On the nights they are in his house, he sleeps on a shelf above the fridge because there is no other place for a bed.
At the end of this month, she has to leave the trailer because it has been sold. The friend with the bunk beds asked her not to visit overnight with the children after May 31.
Karen is thinking about buying a tent so she can spend the summer with the children. But when she inquired, she could not find a spot close to the washrooms on any campsite: everything is booked.
Karen has managed not to take the situation personally. “It is not my fault. It is an opportunity to see what I’m made of. There is a space for us somewhere. I’d love a tiny home. Something will come up.”
She is going to write to Gibsons town council. “It is not OK that houses are sitting empty. The town needs to do something about Air B&B because there are fewer and fewer places to rent for regular people. And zoning needs to change so that homeowners can build suites and tiny homes.”
*Because of her children, “Karen” asked that her real name not be mentioned.