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Letter: This is what the housing crisis looks like in New West

How can you pay $1,650 in rent for 400 square feet — while you're on a fixed income?
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Finding a place to rent in New Westminster is already difficult — but what happens if you're on a fixed income that's less than your monthly rent? Here's one local's story.

Editor:

I thought the housing crisis meant that rents were very high, averaging around $2,000 per month in the Lower Mainland.

And then one of my family members who lives on a fixed income received an eviction notice (for the purpose of anonymity, I will use the name Sally for my family member). Sally asked me for help, so we applied to the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch disputing the eviction.

Long story short, this cost $100 (ouch!), and when the hearing started about six weeks later (past the eviction date), we were told that we could either come to an agreement with the landlord or proceed with the hearing, knowing that Sally might only have two days to move if she lost the dispute. The risk of being homeless in two days was too great, so we negotiated an eviction date of Oct. 15, buying ourselves an extra six weeks to find new accommodations.

Chalk up a win for the landlords, a loss for the tenant.

Sally’s monthly income of $1,335 is from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. She was also receiving a $450 rental supplement from a non-profit organization. Without getting into personal details, Sally also had a small trust fund, but it was rapidly being spent due to her current rent of $1,300 per month plus hydro (even though her building was infested with mice!). We started searching multiple internet sites and social media for a vacant rental in the $1,300 price point. There was really nothing.

Sally has an illness that makes it impossible for her to live in a rooming house or with a roommate, so we knew her rent was just going to be increasing. At about this time, Sally became ill and was unable to attend viewings.

I took on the entire responsibility for finding her a new home, an empathy lesson. I sent hundreds of emails and many phone calls, but hardly anyone returned my messages. When a management company finally did set up a viewing appointment with me, I arrived, but they did not. I even went to their office, but no one was there except another renter having the same problem as me. I could not even reschedule.

The stress was unbelievable! After several weeks of this, I got lucky. I was able to view a new tiny (400-square-foot) basement suite in New Westminster renting for $1,650. Family members of the landlord let me in for the viewing, so I nervously phoned the landlord after, prepared to be turned down because Sally’s income is from social services and I had already learned that discrimination is rampant.

I was prepared to negotiate the terms so I ended up co-signing the two-year lease after I sent in proof of both Sally’s income and my own.

Chalk up another win for the landlords! (Although the landlord was kind in that he rented to us without having met Sally.)

Oh, and the kicker: The non-profit organization withdrew their $450 monthly rent subsidy because they said B.C. Housing rules did not allow them to subsidize “unsustainable” rent and my co-signing the lease was not allowed.

Talk about kicking someone when they are down. What’s the moral to this story? Don’t be a low-income renter in B.C. — the system is so broken, and little to nothing is being done to fix it. That’s the real housing crisis.

Karen Crosby, New Westminster

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