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Desperate Vancouver renters take search to the streets

A pair of homemade posters on telephone poles illustrates how difficult it is to find an apartment in Vancouver.

Would-be renters advertise themselves on telephone poles in Kitsilano, left, and at Oak and Broadway, right. Vancouver’s extremely low vacancy rate and high land values are putting renters at a disadvantage.

Brandon Yan/Contributed

Would-be renters advertise themselves on telephone poles in Kitsilano, left, and at Oak and Broadway, right. Vancouver’s extremely low vacancy rate and high land values are putting renters at a disadvantage.

A pair of homemade posters illustrates how Vancouver’s rental crisis is hitting both long-established residents and young newcomers.

Susan has lived in her Kitsilano apartment for 22 years, but is being evicted so her landlord can live in her suite while he renovates his living quarters. She must leave her apartment at the end of this month, but has had no success so far finding an apartment in her neighbourhood.

“I would like to stay on the Westside – that’s where I grew up,” Susan said. “I still work, so I don’t want to move far out where I have to drive a long way to get to work.”

Sofia Pickstone, a 19-year-old student from Salt Spring Island, is about to start her first year at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Both decided to take the step of putting up signs on Vancouver streets, advertising their qualities as renters: “Very tidy, quiet and responsible student in search of affordable accommodation,” reads Pickstone’s flyer, while Susan’s outlines her long attachment to the neighbourhood, that she is a non-smoker who works full time and lives a “quiet lifestyle.”

Having lived in the same apartment for over 20 years, where her rent was limited by British Columbia’s two per cent-plus-inflation annual rent increase rule, Susan knows she will now have to pay around $200 more per month for a similar suite. But in two months of searching, she has yet to find an available apartment.

“It seems pretty hectic,” Pickstone said. “We’ve been looking on Craiglist a lot. If there’s one that pops up that’s good, you have to be there right after the ad is posted and be the first to show up.”

Susan has had one response to her flyer, but she turned it down because the basement suite only had a shower stall, not a bathtub.

Pickstone has had several responses from people who are looking for both a place and a roommate and called to ask if she had had success finding an apartment. Others misinterpreted her poster and thought she was a landlord with an available suite.

Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is currently at just 0.6%, putting the squeeze on renters to find and keep a place while rents continue to rise.

The flyers struck a chord with Brandon Yan, a 30-year-old Vancouver resident. He took photos of the posters and put them on Twitter.

“I’ve seen people on other platforms online saying, ‘We’re legit renters, we’re upstanding citizens, it’s just very difficult to find an apartment,’” he said. “But I haven’t ever seen people taking to telephone poles to advertise the fact that they’re looking for an apartment — and here’s our resume, essentially.”

The issue has become “very personal,” said Yan, who has seen his friends and siblings unable to find stable housing.

“You see people struggle, and I also struggle because I work at a non-profit.”

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