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Why is it so hard to find a place to rent in Vancouver?

So our condo has sold.  Yeah!  Also Argh!  Now I have to find another place to live for about six months while our adorable laneway home is being built.

The rental situation around Vancouver is pretty dire.  We will be OK for three very good reasons:  we have over two months until we have to move to find a place; we don’t have to find the apartment-of-our-dreams, just someplace temporary (and who can’t put up with a cramped/stuffy/ugly place for six months?); and this is the time of year when University students give up their apartments and move home for the summer, freeing up some prime spots.

Plus we are going to bug all our friends to help us find a place.

But we are hindered by the fact that there just aren’t enough rental options in our town.  And it turns out that some of those condos that could be rented are sitting empty.

A few years ago, some friends of ours downsized out of their house and bought a beeyutiful condo high in a building right on Coal Harbour here in Vancouver.  The view was spectacular, walls of floor-to-ceiling windows looking east up Indian Arm.  But they sold after they’d been there a couple of years and moved to a neighbourhood on Vancouver Island.  Because the condo building was practically empty.  Sure, there was no one using the pool when you wanted to do your morning laps.  And you never had to wait for an elevator.  But it was creepy to know that you were the only occupied apartment on the entire floor.

So it looks like people want to own property downtown — they just don’t want to live there.  Which is silly because it’s a lovely spot.


In this story on her blog, Frances Bula explains the problem.

Now you might think, well, what’s the problem?  These people are paying taxes, what difference does it make whether or not they live there more than a couple of weeks a year?

For one, it makes a difference to the businesses around the empty buildings.

In Coal Harbour, where up to one in four condos is empty in the tower-dominated waterfront neighbourhood between Stanley Park and the downtown convention centre, the scattered shops in the area often struggle to stay in business. By contrast, the West End, which has a low rate of empty residential units, is bounded by three streets – Davie, Denman, and Robson – that are packed with busy small shops and restaurants.

Those little shops are what keeps a neighbourhood vibrant. And if those home-owners were here, they’d be spending money and helping the local economy grow.  Which they are not.


Housing analyst Tsur Somerville, director of UBC’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said the data he has seen also indicate that Vancouver built more housing in the 2006-2011 period than the number of new households that were added to the city’s ranks.

That means investors. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as those units are occupied, said Mr. Somerville, also on the panel.

“The problem is vacant units since that’s demand for real estate without housing people.”

Since the subprime-mortgage-led housing collapse in the US, it’s become obvious that housing as investment can be a volatile commodity — just like any other investment — ruled by supply and demand.  Do we really want to encourage a situation where thousands of units suddenly come on the market because Vancouver no longer seems like a great place to stay? Or because the economic situation in the investors’ home country, thousands of miles from here, determines whether or not those properties go on the market?

The housing market around here is weird enough without any more problems.

And in the meantime — does anybody know about a place to rent?

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About ladywholivesdownthelane

Starting the adventure of building a laneway house in the real-estate jungle of Vancouver, BC

One response »

  1. I live in the West End, great sense of neighbourhood when compared with Coal Harbour, which I walk through to work a lot. Its interesting to read about the buildings I walk by being so empty.


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