Tommy pulled on his Ramones teeshirt and clicked on his newsfeed
August 11, 2017 9:27 PM   Subscribe

The air was heavy and wet, the condensation mixing with airborne ash leaving long, white trails down the blue paint. Still, he was lucky to have the place: A $1,700-per-month pod stacked on city land near the port until the developer decided to break ground. It was part of Vancouver's affordable-housing inventory and it was a score.

Globe and Mail columnist Stephen Quinn channels Gibson, Coupland, and our beloved SyFy in the service of an exceptionally enjoyable (for some values of enjoyable) column.
posted by mwhybark (31 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
That was pretty damn strak.
posted by Samizdata at 10:57 PM on August 11, 2017

The only part I can determine is fiction is the absurdly low rent on the downtown shipping container.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:59 PM on August 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

Disturbing. It wasn't all that long ago that some folks in urban planning circles talked about Vancouver in nothing but glowing terms.
posted by she's not there at 11:33 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

They still do, just not about housing anymore. The fact that it is so well respected is probably a big part of the reason the real estate speculators came in and starting screwing everything up. At least there is some momentum for getting the number of empty apartments under control.
posted by Infracanophile at 11:54 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

No one wants to live there, it's too crowded.
posted by miyabo at 12:50 AM on August 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

He pulled on his mask and goggles and began peddling west, toward Stanley Park.

I hope he didn't sell the bike before he got there.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:53 AM on August 12, 2017 [13 favorites]

I live in Vancouver. I've had my crapped out art flop for 13 years so I still actually pay affordable rent because my drunk building managers keep forgetting to raise it. Four increases in the last seven years, which is pretty darn good for Lotusland. My landlord is the skeeviest bag of shit I've ever paid rent to, but he ignores me because I'm reliable, as far as rent and complaints go. If I ever lose this place I am well and truly fucked; probably looking at a rent increase of 80% minimum.
This city does not work anymore, it's rapidly imploding under the weight of spec capital, and all levels of government; civic, provincial, and federal, have steadily ignored the problem in favour of the tax revenue accrued from the real estate market.

I have had many drinks tonight so I will stop.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:02 AM on August 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

I bailed on Vancouver about a year ago ... after almost forty years. Assuming a very average one bedroom rental -- it now costs at least $25,000 per year (not counting food or clothing anything else) for the privilege of being able to live there. Sorry, Vancouver -- you're just not that good.
posted by philip-random at 1:42 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The rent is too damn high everywhere you go, these days. It's getting to where there's nowhere to live, because if there are jobs there then the rent is too high for those jobs to pay for it, and if the rent is reasonable then there are no jobs anywhere nearby. It's real bad out there, and something has got to give soon. This is not a tenable situation.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:12 AM on August 12, 2017 [29 favorites]

I'm always astounded when I hear about cities which make Tokyo real estate prices/rents seem less astronomical.
posted by oheso at 4:43 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I lived in Tokyo for most of the 1990s and the rents haven't gone up much at all since I was there. If anything they're down over the past 20 years, I guess thanks to the lack of (wage) inflation and low (+1% p.a.) population growth, As for buying there, the magic of Japan's 1% interest rates *really* pushes up / supports higher home prices -- a $1600/mo PITI payment allows you to bid ~$250,000 if you have a 3.5% loan, but $315,000 at 1.2%.

Generationally, we're in peak demographic crunch as the median boomer is 62, still in their homes, while the median Gen Y is age 26, totally needing housing now. In the US, there are 125M people age 25-54, and ~15M of them are immigrants.

Real estate is a funny thing, economically. The supply of it is fixed, it can not be manufactured (except via extensive land reclamation and billion-dollar mass transit infrastructure) or imported, while not having legal title to it (i.e. being "homeless") for just a single day would constitute a major life crisis for most people, given the relative unavailability of "free" places to live that offer a quality of life greater than the stone age.

Even Piketty missed the central importance of real estate in our economy.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 5:49 AM on August 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: It's getting to where there's nowhere to live, because if there are jobs there then the rent is too high for those jobs to pay for it, and if the rent is reasonable then there are no jobs anywhere nearby.

I blame this on the disappearance of job security. It makes sense to move to a small town if you're pretty sure that you'll be able to work for 40 years for the local feedmill or factory or whatever. But if you keep having to move from job to job, it makes sense - for both you and your employers - to move to the city, where you have options when your current gig falls through. And so all the jobs and all the job-seekers move to the city.

It's real bad out there, and something has got to give soon. This is not a tenable situation.

The past 4,000 or so years of human history say that it's totally tenable. Small elite living in luxury + large masses of the miserable is the default condition. We got a brief glimpse of something different in parts of the world for a couple of generations after WWII, and now we're heading back to normal.
posted by clawsoon at 6:10 AM on August 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

We are moving next week to a place in Nanjing, more central. Out in the periphery our rent was ~$600 month, and now our new 2 BR place will be ~$800. But the salaries are commensurate.

After so long away just no chance I could ever return to Vancouver. But I am not bitter, plenty of interesting shit to see all over the world.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:20 AM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

But the salaries are commensurate.

As long as wages and rents are relatively connected, then they can both be high or both be low and things are fine. The thing that stands out to me about housing prices in Vancouver is that the salaries aren't commensurate. The same phenomenon is happening in other cities (Portland comes to mind, but there are lots of others) where prices are going up quickly while wages are staying flat. Without either a really high paying job (eg senior tech position, finance, etc) or family money, your options get limited.

It's not just big, coastal cities, either -- it's happening in smaller and inland places as well. I was just reading about how Salt Lake City has turned into an extremely tight market both for buying and renting. I can't find the article I was reading, but this one covers the same basics (more people than housing leading to high prices and tight inventory, etc).

And for the most part, cities aren't creating (or in some cases allowing) options like the fictional shipping containers. Your choice is more likely a two hour commute from the far periphery, or sharing a place with a bunch of roommates closer in until you all get booted out when the rents go up.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:37 AM on August 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Bright blue."
posted by leotrotsky at 6:39 AM on August 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

In case it wasn't clear, this really isn't fiction, despite the tone. Here are actual Vancouver apartments built out of containers on land next to the port in a neighborhood that will be razed shortly for "real" developments. Here is a $2100 tiny one bedroom in Gastown, but not as tiny as the microsuites going for $1700 a few minutes away.

And I've been unable to leave my house for more than a week because the air quality is so bad.
posted by congen at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

A part of my job is finding living accommodations in the Lower Mainland for mothers, seniors, those on disability and all living in poverty. A mom with 2 kids, on welfare, may get $660 for rent. That can barely rent you an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) in the DTES.
Although rents vary by municipality, "average" monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Vancouver is $1,600.00 and it can drop to $1,300 for the lower Fraser Valley.
Move out of the city? With current transportation costs? Any money saved on rent will just have to be used on buses. If moving out to the further regions (South Surrey, Langley) may mean you have to take a bus to get groceries; get the kids to school/daycare; get to medical appointments - so add another $15 - $20 a day for transportation. That money comes from the funds you are given for food.
It's a landlord's market. And I have never seen such blatant landlord discrimination as I have seen in the last year. Landlords know they can say and do what they want. "We don't want your kind here" to "No welfare recipients here" are common remarks I hear. It used to be that landlords were a little more subtle (hidden) about their discrimination. Now - it spits out like it's a natural right. One landlord, when I tried to remind him of the laws, laughed and said "yeah, then sue me" and then hung up.
Of course, there are laws to protect renters against discrimination. But who has the time to file a complaint and wait for months for any kind of justice - if there is any?. And while you are waiting for justice - the landlord bad mouths you to other landlords.
A lot of long-time affordable rental units have been gobbled up by huge property management corporations and it's caused an increase in rents and more difficult applications processes. I was on one management site that had a history of having lower rents due to the condition of their buildings and the locations. Now the property management application form for these complexes make it quite clear that you must be employed - and the form also asks for two guarantors. WTF?
And then there is the credit checks and criminal record checks.
Subsidized housing? There is a minimum eight-year weight list. And if you can't prove you have had stable housing for the last five years - don't even bother applying.
I have seen a huge increase in evictions as well. In particular, seniors (65 years++) being evicted. We have seen a huge increase in homeless families and more people sleeping in parks or cars.
The rental protections strategies adopted by some cities in the Lower Mainland is a little too late. The impact won't be felt for many years to come.
We need more emergency shelters for seniors, families and women and children. Shelters that can accommodate these vulnerable groups have had their available spaces maxed out for the past year. We also need to lengthen the allowable stay in emergency shelters - for up to one year. Current length of stay is between 30 - 90 days; not long enough to house anyone in the Lower Mainland's current rental market.
posted by what's her name at 8:50 AM on August 12, 2017 [18 favorites]

I was going to come in and say, the deal with this dystopian fiction is that none of it is fiction, if the Trump stuff wasn't a tip off. The rent, the refugee tents, the cloud of smoke that's been sending folks to the hospital all over the PNW for almost 2 weeks -- the dystopian future is here and now.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

A side effect of gross income inequity is that the people, investment funds and corporations with lots of cash need a place to invest it. They are buying lots real estate and renting it out. Of course, the rent is set maximize profit. Until we address income equality and better wages, this is going to continue.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I lived in LA, the shitty crack house around the corner from us sold for $700,000. It was literally a crack house.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:46 AM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hmmm. 20 degrees is pretty nice sleeping weather, that's below room temp, so not sure why it's sweltering. Also, no uber in Vancouver, so that rang false for me. But yeah, I'm super lucky because we bought before the boom, but we will literally never own a real house. Which is fine, but it is funny that you could sell our condo here and buy a house in downtown Toronto....
posted by Valancy Rachel at 11:29 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lemme tell you, I (a 20-something in Vancouver) have been going on okcupid dates with other 20-somethings in Vancouver and the real estate "issue" makes for a great icebreaker - all it takes is for the conversation to wander over to "so, whereabouts do you live?" and all of a sudden we're unloading all of our anxieties over being able to stay in this city onto each other, virtual strangers. It is very much at the forefront of everyone's minds.

A couple years ago I basically hit the Vancouver rental accommodation jackpot (a modest rent-controlled West End 1BR), and have been hanging on with a white-knuckled grip since, despite the fact that I can't really afford even that long-term - it's either stay here and cross my fingers I'll get a better-paying job down the line so I can start saving, move into a shared house with 4 other people, or go back and live with my parents. (I try not to think about how the entire building across the street has been sold to developers and there's nothing stopping my management company from doing the same, or how there's basically zero chance my building is seismically up-to-date and I will likely be buried in literal tons of concrete rubble when The Big One hits, etc etc)
posted by btfreek at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Clawsoon, that's a good point, on how job security factors into it.

The other explanation that doesn't seem to get aired is the connection between real estate, empty units, and money laundering.
posted by Baeria at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

On families being evicted- this does not seem right. They should get, at bare minimum, a FEMA trailer.

In the U.S. at least.
posted by Baeria at 2:50 PM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Every now and then I get nostalgic for city living for having great places to eat, things to do, real book stores and record stores, etc. We live in a town with less than 800 people on the far end of nowhere. Most folks would hate living here. But damn, I do not miss the urban/suburban cost of housing and threads like this serve well to remind me of what a rent hell we endured in our city days. The grocery store here sucks, the beer selection is even worse, there's no library, and what we call a coffee shop would put most of you into the fetal position. But housing is not sucking up over 50% of my meager income and for that I am most thankful.
posted by Ber at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2017

But who has the time to file a complaint and wait for months for any kind of justice - if there is any?

Not only time, but there is an unconscionable $100 fee simply to file a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch, which entitles you to use an opaque kafkaesque complaint system, pairing the complainant up against as many corporate lawyers as the landlord feels like committing.
I hope the new provincial (NDP) government lives up to its commitment to reform this system.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The other explanation that doesn't seem to get aired is the connection between real estate, empty units, and money laundering.

For those not familiar, this gives a decent overview.
posted by juv3nal at 3:47 PM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

And so all the jobs and all the job-seekers move to the city.

I know a number of people who moved to Vancouver. A few did move for work, but it was to work in a specific industry, not because they couldn't find a job elsewhere. Most, though, moved so they could live in Vancouver. They wanted the lifestyle - the food, the concerts, the big city (in Canadian terms), the lack of snow.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:58 PM on August 12, 2017

Toronto rent strike ends in victory. I wonder how much more of that we'll be seeing.
posted by clawsoon at 6:07 AM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

This really could have used another editing pass or two. Not that the writer is even trying to channel Gibson (who lives just down the road), but still...

It rained in Seattle last night (finally!) so we're free of BC smoke for a few days at least.
posted by lhauser at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2017

In San Francisco, part of why our housing market is so crazy is the large number of overseas investors, mostly from China and Dubai, that are treating housing here like an extension of the stock market. They buy, sight unseen, maaaybe rent it out at market value but also maybe keep it empty (you get a tax break for this because. . .of course you do), wait a few years and sell at a massive profit. Rinse, repeat.

It has completely uncoupled the local demand for housing and what locals can actually afford from the supply and what foreign investors are willing to pay. $2400 for a tiny studio in the city is the low end of normal these days. Even highly-paid tech workers are spending half their paychecks to live here. It's insane.

And of course since there are almost no real incentives for developers to build affordable housing here, everything new is 'luxury' housing that often replaced an older, more affordable building.

I'm pretty sure the same thing is happening in Vancouver.
posted by ananci at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

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