Sarah Kennedy

Maple Ridge families feeling rental squeeze

Struggling to find affordable places to live.

Sarah Kennedy has barely started looking for a new place to live and already she’s getting nervous.

After receiving notice from her landlord that she and her family have to be out of their rented house on 256th Street in Maple Ridge by Aug. 31, Kennedy has begun testing the rental market and is finding that it’s not a good feeling.

So far, she’s tried eight places to see if they will house a family of four, plus a dog and a cat.

She’s tried Craigslist and Kijiji and is also being helped by a realtor, and is finding not only a lack of choices, but that when she finds something suitable, she can’t afford the rent.

“But in Maple Ridge, there doesn’t seem to be a lot,” she said Tuesday.

Often, her inquiries go unanswered because landlords are busy with other possible tenants.

The Kennedys – Sarah and husband Jordan, along with Charlotte, 8 and Wyatt, 1, and dog Ben and Chloe the cat – have been renting the home in Webster’s Corners for nine years and paying $1,300 a month.

To find similar accommodation elsewhere now requires rents way above that. She recently saw a three-bedroom suite go for $1,650 a month. Houses go for between $2,000 and $2,500 a month. The family could pay a bit more for rent, although finances will get even tighter.

“The three-bedrooms are the hardest to find, right now.”

Both her and husband grew up in Maple Ridge and have never seen the rental market like this.

“We’re getting out-bid now on everything. The amount is ridiculous. We’re going to be house poor without even owning a house.”

Although her husband works full-time in Coquitlam, she works only part-time and family finances are stretched.

“Our bills and our rent are taking up the whole family budget. There’s nothing left, it’s tight and the kids suffer.

“We’re not the only family.”

She recently looked at one house and found four other families doing the same thing.

“Every day, there’s another family that’s looking. I think people are feeling pretty desperate and what is out there is way too expensive.”

The despair in Kennedy’s voice is evident as she explains her predicament.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy.”

It’s even more complicated with Charlotte now enrolled in Webster’s Corners elementary, and having to find a place that will take a dog and a cat.

She’s thought about surrendering her pets.

“But my kids – they would be devastated. We’d be devastated. They’re part of our family.”

The Kennedy family recently applied to become the caretakers at Fairview Park, where they would be provided a house in return for watching and maintaining the park. But so far, no word.

She points out that the same thing happened to her neighbour, a single mom who had to move to Langley after the new owners of the rental house took possession. The mother had to commute from Langley for the rest of the year to take her daughter to Webster’s Corners elementary.

If the Kennedys can’t find anything, the family may have to move in with Sarah’s mom, “which would be ridiculous.”

She makes the point that it’s not just the down-and-out who can’t find a place.

“We’re an average-income family and we’re scared.”

Dominion Lending Centre mortgage broker Rebecca Awram sees the crunch first-hand and said some of her clients sell their homes without having another place lined up, then have trouble getting back into the market. She calls the rental crisis the “untold story” of the crazy real estate market.

People are getting into bidding wars on rental suites and people show up with cash in envelopes, not to pay the rent, but to bribe the property manager.

“Maybe renters aren’t as vocal a population as homeowners, but I have never seen anything like this.”

Awram lives in Maple Ridge and has been in the mortgage business 10 years. One of her clients had to offer another $150 a month in order to get the suite.

People may not feel sorry for homeowners who are seeing their property values rise. But, “I feel horrible for renters. Not only are you paying somebody’s mortgage … people just can’t find a place.”

One factor that could be adding to the crunch is that people who do sell their homes, to cash in on the market, can end up without another place to buy. Then they enter the rental market, further increasing demand.

“This is a frenzied real estate market where demand far outstrips supply. Sellers have so many offers on the table that they often don’t even consider the ones that have ‘subjects.’

Making a subject-to-sale offer is simply not an option right now, so it’s quite possible that many homeowners sell without having a purchase lined up.

“I’m surprised by how many people sell their house and haven’t found something, yet. You can sell your house on a weekend.”

Her nephew recently bought a house in Maple Ridge and had to add $100,000 on top of the asking price, bringing the price to $750,000.

But Awram says we’re not in a housing bubble, because the housing market is being fueled by real demand.

Facebook comments illustrate the extend of the problem.

Stephanie Stoddard just went through the same thing as Sarah Kennedy is going through now. Her family was living in a home for five years, but then had to move after the owner decided to renovate and sell. Finding a new place required standing in line to view rental homes. They found a place, but are now paying $1,000 more per month in rent.

Shannon Marie and her family of five had to leave their two-bedroom condo in Pitt Meadows because the landlord wanted to sell. Fortunately, they were able to move into her mom’s old house.

Star Sommers said that the last rental open house she went to had a lineup of 25 people with the first in line getting the suite.

Kassandra Antone is trying to find a three-bedroom suite after living in a two-bedroom apartment with her two teens for more than three years. She’s now going to try Surrey.

“I can’t remember what it’s like to have a couch and invite people over. My budget is $1,300 and it’s slim pickings and nowhere is allowing my daughter to get a cat. We drove for almost three hours getting numbers for apartments … “

A City of Maple Ridge report from last year says that the vacancy rate in Maple Ridge in the last two years has dropped from more than four per cent to 2.6 per cent.

In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, people pay an average of $708 to rent a one-bedroom suite in an older apartment block that was purpose built as an apartment building.

For a one bedroom investor-owned condo, the average rent is $1,200 a month.


HousingActionPlan 2015-09-14

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