Once upon a time, in a faraway land called The Unceded Ancestral Territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people, there was a speculative housing market. And in this speculative housing market there were many kings and queens who lived in their castles. Originally when they purchased these castles, only 30 years ago, they hadn't realized they were purchasing magical beans that would rapidly increase in value beyond any reasonable connection to actual material or corporeal substance.
Now kings and queens from all over the world heard of this magical place and came to participate in the increasingly competitive market, turning it into a tournament. This tournament went on for so long that the kings and queens, princes and princesses, and the whole kingdom became so drunken and fattened and distracted by the incredible performance of jousters, they didn't notice the last knight crumpled from exhaustion. A panic broke out when they realized they would have to return to reality.
Here enters the surly named Jonathan Renter. He was born in these lands, but as a young boy of three, his parents were unable to purchase suitable housing in Vancouver because they sold around a time known as Black Monday, when a plague swept through the region, causing the market to cinch up and there to be little available. They moved to the countryside known as North Delta, and from there, many years later, surly Jonathan Renter left and returned to his city to reclaim his rightful title of Vancouverite.
I had come from the countryside as a person of privilege. Some even called me a natural born gentrifier: white, male, middle class, university educated. Yet, as I attempted to find a gainful hovel to rest my head, an unsettling pattern emerged. At each meeting, I found myself bidding for an apartment, where the price I had originally seen became a fantasy. Those who were interested waged war. There was no honour in this, and so I went my way.
I began calling out to others in the street, sharing my ideas, but was quickly told that I was mansplaining, and that everyone already knew about co-ops and that I should just join one if that's what I wanted to do.
While driving in my trusty steed, I listened to a radio station called Co-op Radio, and on this channel there was a show about Co-ops, and on this show they explained what cooperation could mean. Needing to refuel my steed I stopped in at a Co-op gas station, and this is when an idea dawned upon my sweaty brow. What if all those people who could not win in the bidding wars joined together?
When I returned to the city after my contemplative drive, I began calling out to others in the street, sharing my ideas, but was quickly told that I was mansplaining, and that everyone already knew about co-ops and that I should just join one if that's what I wanted to do. Thus, I became a member of Co-op Radio, joined MEC, and began shopping at the East End Food Co-Op. While I was in line at Vancity, looking to change my bank over from BMO to a Credit Union, I realized that I still had nowhere to live.
Up on the street corner I noticed a series of posters around a pole which heralded a nearby roundtable about housing. This was the very thing I needed. After following the address and finding a nondescript building, I entered the front door and found a room all full of people. Being the last to arrive, I quietly edged into a seat in the back. A woman at the front spoke with a booming drawl.
Most turned me away, while some offered me a cash-based relationship with no lease or receipts if I wanted to sleep in the hallways.
“The 'Vancouverism' of mixed-primary uses, intermittent green spaces, and favouring pedestrians over vehicles is a long shot from actually fulfilling the whole schema that Jane Jacobs was talking about for New York. Streets are the life-veins of the city, but if the buildings are empty, if the walls are all reflective presenting—an image of the outside world while remaining a gated community—then all the city planning has done is create an elaborate illusion. While they hollow out buildings, keeping their facades, we are slowly becoming a heartless city, obsessed with appearances only.”
I nodded my head in agreement, listening to her thoroughly explore housing issues that I had no idea about: shadow flipping, money laundering, fixed-term leases, renoviction, slumlords, and many other things. I began to get nauseous. Maybe there was nothing I could do to find a home. Quickly, but then cautiously, checking the way I would explain myself, I raised my hand during the question period.
“What about... cooperative housing, or cooperative living in general. Is there any way for people who are struggling to band together and defeat these foes?”
She explored the question, proposing co-op housing as useful solution—albeit not the only one. She explained how policy and a speculative market determine most of what becomes available and how new housing comes into existence. After she mentioned the bottom of the barrel living spaces, Single Room Occupancies (SROs), I thought I might be able to acquire one of these, since they required far less money, references, and no mandatory renters insurance.
When he cracked open the door and showed me the space which was barely larger than my own vehicle, I laughed.
Navigating my way down to the Hastings area, I began walking into different hotels and asking to speak to building managers. Most turned me away, while some offered me a cash-based relationship with no lease or receipts if I wanted to sleep in the hallways. Finally, a reasonable person offered to show me some of their SROs.
The lighting and decor were quite drab, and as the manager explained the shared washroom and no kitchen in the suite, I started to wonder if this was even legal. When he cracked open the door and showed me the space which was barely larger than my own vehicle, I laughed. I noticed several cockroaches scurrying along the wall. A rat leaped up from behind a pile of junk and caught one of the cockroaches in its teeth. The rat was quickly covered in bedbugs and had its blood sucked dry until it turned to dust. The building manager said rent was 900 dollars.
I quickly left the building which had obviously been cursed by some evil wizard.
The evening light of sunset cast its reds and oranges over the landscape as I meandered the roads. Tonight there would be no housing for me, but I hoped for better prospects tomorrow. I imagined the city counsellors suddenly deciding to build several brand new social housing buildings. That new rent-to-own infrastructure would provide an opportunity for the poor to actually participate in the owners market. I imagined empty or low vacancy buildings in the downtown core being turned into vertical farms to increase local food security. I had visions of campers in parks, squatters in abandoned homes, and a whole city working together to provide healthy and happy spaces for each other to live in.
My eyes began to blur and so I pulled over; fatigue quickly segued into sleep.
Loud shouting woke me and I stirred in uncomfortable soreness as I recognized where I had parked. Across the street was a giant cyclops, white in colour and stony in appearance with a big red eye. A huge crowd encircled the monster, individuals held up banners and signs on sticks, with slogans about the injustice of housing in Vancouver. This was the creature that protected all those slum lords and kings and queens who took advantage of all those people out there who could only rent. No matter the chanting and resilience of the crowd, the myopic view of the cyclops never wavered and I knew that I could try now, to do something about the evil which had taken over the fine city of Vancouver.
I reigned my steed and started towards the monster, calling out in front to the crowd to give space. With my lance I would ram it into its belly and kill that unholy cyclops. The crowd cooperated and gave a wide berth as I galloped towards the thing. When I finally made contact my whole world was shaken into madness and I was thrown from my steed. The people gathered around, some clapping, others laughing, and more in confusion about my act. Before me was the crushed remains of my vehicle, destroyed by the wall of city hall, which I had somehow mistaken for a ghastly creature from myth. As I regained composure, I realized that now I was completely homeless.