From laundry rooms to living rooms: millennials find creative solutions to rental woes

High rents and low vacancy rates force some millennials into cramped, unusual living arrangements

A new play titled Above the Hospital chronicles the difficulties that millennials face while trying to survive in Vancouver.

When Todd Russell and his ex-girlfriend broke up three months ago, they thought that — like most couples in their situation — they’d go their separate ways.

But when they started looking around for rental options, they realized it just wasn’t feasible for one of them to move out.

“We thought, instead of one person quickly moving out into the first place that becomes available, we would take the time and find places suited to both of us,” said Russell, who is 31 and works as a welder.

The couple moved in together after dating for a few months — it was fast, said Russell, but by splitting the rent they could live in a nicer place, for less.

The pair lived together for three years before breaking up. They no longer sleep in the same room, but continue to share the rest of the space.

“I think we both just try to keep a level head and try to stick it out,” said Russell. “Renting in the city, it’s just a constant struggle — all you hear is too much, too high, for too little.”

Vancouver is home to some of the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates in the country — forcing millennials to come up with increasingly creative ways to overcome the expensive housing market.

But where does an unconventional situation become unlivable — and what are the long-term consequences of living in an inconvenient space?

Office space

Jordan Brett, 24, works in finance, and rents a room in a house in East Vancouver with four roommates.

The catch? His room isn’t technically a bedroom. It’s a seven-by-eight foot office that just fits his double bed, and a small cabinet.

“It’s not that bad, but you definitely couldn’t exercise in here or anything,” he said, explaining that he stores his clothes in a coat closet off the hallway.

Brett and his roommates split the $3,850 rent for the house, with each roommate paying a different amount based on the size of their room.

He said his office was a better option than many of the other living situations he saw advertised online, including dens or curtained-off sections of living rooms.

He said he has one friend who lives in a room that all his roommates have to walk through to get to the front door.

‘It’s kind of awkward’

Angela Mader, 37, is a student at BCIT. She pays $650 a month for rent and her meals are included.

The catch? She’s a home-stay student, renting a room in a family home and eating meals with them — an arrangement typically reserved for young international students.

“Sometimes I don’t tell people I’m a home-stay student at my age, because it’s kind of awkward,” she said, “but I’d never be able to find anything else this cheap.”

Mader said she, too, has heard of lots of unconventional living situations, including one friend who rents out a laundry room and has to constantly plan with her roommates to not be there when they need to do a load.

She said looking for a place to rent in the city is so stressful, she’s already dreading her next move.

“It’s like looking for a job, you have to be on the websites early, with all your references ready and be able to meet them right away.”

Compromise not always possible

Nathanael Lauster, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, said that unconventional living arrangements are becoming increasingly common in cities where rents have skyrocketed, and incomes have not.

“For some people, obviously it’s a real problem if they really value their privacy. For other people it’s not really a big deal. And this is where it gets kind of tricky to sort out what is the minimum standard we should have for many living places,” he said.

But even though compromising comfort might be a solution for some, he said it might not be a viable option for young families and single parents.

“We’re really missing out on a great deal of need when we assume that everybody is a middle-class person fumbling their way through life and accepting indeterminacy in their early twenties,” he said.

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